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Charges: Northern MN resort owners illegally caught fish in Canada, sold them as bait

The resort owners allegedly netted thousands of dollars in profits from the bait fish.

Three resort owners in northern Minnesota are accused of catching and selling ciscoes to be used as bait, netting them thousands of dollars in profits, the U.S. Attorney's Office says.

Robert Dale Latourell, Jr., 50, Melinda May Latourell, 45, and Melissa Ann Latourell, all of Ely, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, a conservation law that protects wildlife against illegal trade.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Latourells, along with others, own and operate Latourell's Resort and Outfitters on Moose Lake, near Ely, which is inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and the Superior National Forest.

They provide guided canoe and fishing trips and boat towing services inside the BWCAW, as well as operate a motorized portage at Prairie Portage, along the U.S.-Canada border, as part of a contract with the U.S. Forest Service. 

From October 2012-December 2016, the Latourells are accused of using their access afforded to them by their federal contract to enter the protected waters of the Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, on "numerous" occasions, where they used seine nets to illegally harvest ciscoes, a pelagic fish also known as lake herring or tullibee, the U.S. Attorney's Office says.

Ciscoes are found in the border waters, where they spawn in the late fall. The fish are often packaged, frozen and sold as bait to stores throughout northern Minnesota, court documents state. 

The Latourells allegedly imported, possessed, transported and sold ciscoes for thousands of dollars of profit to bait retailers in Minnesota, which is a violation of the Lacey Act. 

Erica MacDonald, the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, announced a federal information charging them on Thursday, noting they'll make their initial court appearances "at a later date."

Numerous agencies teamed up to investigate this case, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Minnesota DNR, Canadian officials, and the Duluth Police Department. 

The Lacey Act, passed in 1900, was the first federal law protecting wildlife, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It enforces penalties for the illegal trade of animals and plants. It also regulates the import of any species protected by international or domestic law and prevents the spread of invasive and non-native species. 

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