Four Western Washington men have been sentenced to fines and jail for illegally gillnetting trout at a prized sport fishing lake near Coulee City.
Vitaliy Kachinskiy, 23, of Mount Vernon, Wash., and three Everett men: Sergey Otroda, 32, Igor Bigun, 26, and Oleg Pavlus, 25, pled guilty to gross misdemeanor charges, Grant County Prosecutor D. Angus Lee confirmed on Friday.
Washington Fish and Wildlife officers confronted the men in the early morning hours on April 6 with 242 cutthroat trout caught in a netting operation at Lake Lenore.
The lake is managed as a "quality fishery," attracting anglers who use single barbless hooks and no bait to catch-and-release Lahontan cutthroats.
Anglers are allowed to keep no more than one fish a day from the lake.
The defendants pled guilty to unlawful recreational fishing and fishing with a net, Lee said.
Each man was sentenced to 20 days in jail, 40 days of electronic home monitoring and fines or costs totaling $4,100, he said.
Fish and Wildlife Capt. Chris Anderson in Ephrata said this case and illegal netting involving poachers at other lakes have caused great concern for the state's fish program.
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"The 242 fish were just one night's catch," Anderson said. "We're not sure how many nights or weeks worth of fish they've taken out of the lake."
The case was made by two Fish and Wildlife police, who staked out an area of the lake filled with hundreds of large trout staging to spawn.
They spotted the men drive in to the area after dark and return hours later. When confronted, the men were loading nets and backpacks filled with fish into their truck.
All four men tried to flee. Three were apprehended fairly quickly, but one escaped by swimming away in water thought to be slightly above freezing, according to reports.
Around 5 a.m., a police officer in Soap Lake spotted a shoeless man dressed in camouflage clothing walking through a city park. He was identified as the fourth suspect and arrested.
Agents reported that the men had collected about 500 pounds of fish. They were charged with illegal use of a net, fishing closed waters, fishing without a license and exceeding the bag limit.
The trout were donated to the Moses Lake Food Bank. Agents seized the pickup truck for forfeiture.
They can try to appeal the forfeiture of the vehicle used in the crime, but have not filed that option, Anderson said.