An Indiana Man has pleaded guilty to importing more than 2,600 pounds of live channel catfish into Illinois without a permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The importation of fish and other animals without permits poses a risk to the state’s native wildlife populations due to the possible spread of diseases that can occur. The IDNR will actually provide free importation permits to importers after reviewing the fish they are bringing in as long as the fish have been tested and are proven to be disease-free.
Michael Sullivan of Griffith, Indiana, put in a guilty plea deal back in October to one count of importing live fish without a permit. The case was filed in Will County, Illinois after an investigation by the Illinois Conservation Police Invasive Species Unit. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the Will County state’s attorney prosecuted the case.
During the investigation, it was determined Mr. Sullivan imported the channel catfish into a Plainfield lake three separate times in 2021. The channel catfish were purchased in Missippi and Alabama and taken up north. The channel castfish is a species that is susceptible to viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), which can decimate fish populations in lakes and rivers.
“While VHS has been found in the Great Lakes, currently we have not detected this disease outside of Lake Michigan in Illinois,” said Kevin Irons, assistant chief of fisheries at IDNR.
Most people within the fish transportation industry comply with IDNR regulations, said Conservation Police Officer Brandon Fehrenbacher, who works in the Invasive Species Unit.
“Importing and stocking untested fish significantly increases the risks to our resources and undercuts others within the industry abiding by the law,” he said. “These types of conservation offenses can be complex and time consuming in an already overburdened court system. IDNR is grateful the Illinois Attorney General’s Environmental Crimes Bureau and the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office dedicated the time and resources required to prosecute this case.”
Mr. Sullivan has received a sentence of 24 months court supervision and $227 in fines and court fees. He was also ordered to perform 30 hours of community service and pay $10,500 in restitution to the IDNR Conservation Police Operations Assistance Fund.
“I appreciate the partnership of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Will County state’s attorney as we worked to hold this individual accountable for illegally importing live fish and jeopardizing our environment,” said Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. “Our state’s ecosystems and natural resources are delicate and should be preserved for years to come.”
For more information about fish importation laws in Illinois, visit https://ifishillinois.org/programs/aquaculture.html.