DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A local man who game wardens say was operating an illegal commercial business selling both live and dead fish taken from waters in and around his hometown to private individuals admitted his involvement Monday in Dover-Foxcroft District Court.
Mark Cox, 39, who was under surveillance by federal and state fish and game officials in August, pleaded guilty to the sale on Aug. 20 of 46 brook trout, the possession on Aug. 20 of 41 brook trout over the limit, the possession on Aug. 18 of 21 brook trout over the limit and the possession on Aug. 21 of several live fish.
Cox was fined a total of $2,960 for the violations. Through a plea arrangement, Piscataquis County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy dismissed a count each of unlawful angling or fishing; violation of the number, amount, weight or size of fish; and unlawful possession of scheduled drugs.
Several other people may be facing charges in the ongoing investigation, Capt. Dan Scott of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said Wednesday. In addition, there may be federal charges filed against Cox, who also had a landlocked salmon in his possession, Scott said.
“Three thousand dollars in fines for fishing violations are fairly substantial and we were happy with the outcome of the state’s case at this point,” Scott said. “There were multiple charges that we could have charged him on, probably a dozen or more. … We picked the most serious charges, the ones that really hurt the resources.”
Scott said the possession of live fish is a serious violation especially since Cox was going to sell them to people to illegally stock farm ponds.
Due to the nature of the charges against Cox and the amount of time he was engaged in the activity, he will likely have his fish and game licenses suspended, according to Scott. The final decision will be made by the department and DIF&W Commissioner Danny Martin.
After receiving a tip from the Operation Game Thief hot line last summer, wardens and U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents placed Cox under surveillance and observed him on his property and around the waters in the Dover-Foxcroft area, primarily the Piscataquis River, according to Scott. When Cox was under surveillance, wardens observed him using a net to scoop out the fish. They also watched Cox and some of his associates taking the fish to illegally stock ponds, Scott said.
Scott said that several people who purchased the fish, had them in their possession or illegally stocked the fish also could face charges.
Cox had been keeping several brook trout in an aerated tank in his house and evidence showed that these were being sold to illegally stock farm ponds. A lot of the dead fish he possessed, which were over the limit, were too short to possess, Scott said.
“This guy was really damaging the resource,” targeting pools of fish that gathered in spring holes because the water was so warm in the river at that time of year, Scott said. “Somebody who would go in and target a pool of fish around a spring like this and start taking them out by the dozens and dozens over the legal limit, that has the real potential to affect the resource significantly. He could essentially catch all the fish out of that stretch of the river.”
Scott praised Almy, who he said took the case seriously and provided the department with a lot of attention. “He was very helpful in guiding us and in working out a plea agreement,” Scott said.
Anyone who has information about violations of Maine’s fish and game laws is encouraged to call the Operation Game Thief hot line at 800-ALERT-US.