COULEE CITY, Wash. — Three men illegally using gillnets caught 376 whitefish and a trout from Banks Lake before being apprehended on Dec. 8 by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police.
Sergey Lala, 51; Leonid Lala, 47; and Victor Lala, 42, were booked into Grant County Jail and released without bail, District Court clerks said. Officials donated the fish to charity.
All the men listed residences in Tacoma, but officers said one of the men was visiting from Ukraine and had an airline ticket for a return flight before the Jan. 22 court date.
“He’ll be gone,” said Capt. Chris Anderson, who was surprised the court didn’t set bail. “Depending on what judge is there, they don’t always know the impact these cases have on our natural resources. It’s just another fish and wildlife violation – 377 fish is just a number to them.”
Two similar major busts involving gillnet fish poaching have occurred in the past two years at Banks and Lenore lakes, both in Grant County. In all cases, the suspects were from Western Washington and of Eastern European descent, Anderson confirmed.
Fish and Wildlife police are emphasizing patrols at Banks Lake in December as whitefish stage in large numbers in shoreline areas and become more vulnerable to illegal netting and snagging, he said.
Early in the morning of Dec. 8, officers observed three men fishing with gillnets from the rock face along Dry Falls Dam, according to the report.
“We were doing night surveillance and could see they were netting, but we didn’t know how many nets they had out,” Anderson said. “We have to catch them in the act of putting out or pulling in the nets and we know these poachers often have their own surveillance.”
The poachers’ van was hidden in the sagebrush nearby and the men were fishing in an area where it would have been impossible to apprehend them safely while also preventing them from destroying evidence, he said.
One concealed officer watched the netters for more than 7 hours, relaying information to other officers.
When the men finally gathered up all of their fish and nets to leave, the officers swept in and took all three into custody after they attempted to flee on foot.
The fish were seized along with seven gillnets.
“Officer Roman Varyvoda did an outstanding job conversing with the suspects in Ukrainian and Russian to obtain statements,” Anderson said, noting that the multi-lingual Varyvoda was assigned to Grant Country region four months ago. “We were lucky to get him.”
“With the amount of fish they are taking, we’re sure they’re being commercialized within that (Eastern European) community,” Anderson said, but no arrests have been made for the illegal sale of the sportfish