Gill net trial comes to a close

MANISTIQUE – Testimony wrapped up and a ruling was made in the tribal court case of two commercial fishermen from the Garden Peninsula on Friday. The judgment was handed down at the tribal center in Manistique.

Troy Nester Jensen, 46, and Wade William Jensen, 48, – both tribal commercial fishermen and members of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians – were cited for violating gear restrictions in Lake Michigan last year.

During a ruling in tribal court Friday, Judge Jocelyn Fabry found Wade Jensen responsible for abandoning a gill net and responsible for improperly marking a net. He was fined $300. His brother, Troy Jensen, was found not to be in violation of the gear restrictions.

During the ruling, Fabry cited evidence presented during the trial regarding Wade Jensen’s name found on the abandoned net.

Restitution has yet to be determined following the court’s review of statements from the prosecution and Wade Jensen.

The prosecution has five days to submit a statement to the judge. The defendant wages, lodging and mileage incurred when officers pulled the net on Oct. 18 and Oct. 21. Dead and decaying fish species and zebra mussels were entangled in the net.

Restitution could include the catch based on CORA fishing regulations for the treaty-ceded waters, said Fabry. Restitution could possibly include the DNR expenses through tribal regulations, she added, also ordering immediate return of the net to the defendants.

Friday’s hearing was the third proceeding held at the tribal center in connection with this case. The trial began on Feb. 14, continued on March 14, and resumed Friday.

Witnesses were questioned by Tribal Prosecutor Justin Derhammer. They were also questioned by Troy Jensen and Wade Jensen who represented themselves during the trial. The two defendants declined to take the witness stand on Friday.

In addition to DNR officers, law enforcement from the tribe were also involved in the case and testified on the stand. Tribal Law Enforcement Officer Tom Money, who ticketed the Jensens, completed his testimony on Friday, saying he cited both brothers for the violations because the two always fish together.

During closing statements, Prosecutor Derhammer commented that testimony from Money and fellow officer Tom Shampine was the most important evidence in the trial. The officers talked to both brothers who denied the nets belonged to them and who did not report the net missing, said Derhammer.

In the defendants’ closing arguments, Wade Jensen said he admitted losing about 2,000 feet of net but not the 10,000 feet of net found abandoned.

“Why we’re being blamed for someone else’s net is unbelievable,” he told the court.

Troy Jensen said they were disappointed they were not told by officials to remove the gill net once his brother’s buoy was found on the net.

DNR officials became aware of the abandoned net in August when sports fishermen complained of getting their fishing gear caught in the net. After several attempts to locate the net, an anonymous caller to the Escanaba office gave the GPS coordinates enabling officers to find the net.

DNR officers testified that on Oct. 18, the first day of retrieving the net, DNR found a metal pole with floats attached to it. The pole had a number 189 on it and belonged to a fisherman who had been deceased since 2011. On the second day of pulling the remainder of the net on Oct. 21, officers testified a buoy the DNR had placed on the net on Oct. 18 was replaced with a metal stake marked “W. Jensen.”

The net and stakes were turned over to Sault Tribe Law Enforcement which filed the civil charges against Troy Jensen and Wade Jensen.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143,