Firm gets fine for illegal stocking

Casper Star-Tribune Online
Feb. 1, 2008

A Colorado man has been fined $100,000 for stocking ponds at a Wyoming ranch with rusty crayfish, a destructive species that officials say could have significantly damaged aquatic habitat and native fish.

Shannon Skelton, 34, the owner of Colorado Fisheries in Fort Collins, pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful transportation of illegally possessed wildlife from Colorado to the Wagonhound Ranch in Converse County. Jointly with his company, Skelton must pay $40,000 in fines and $60,000 in restitution to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Already, more than $34,000 has been spent to eradicate the crayfish -- native to the Ohio River drainage -- from three ponds and a section of creek on the Wagonhound Ranch in Converse County.

Colorado Fisheries creates fish habitat and sells trophy fish to ranches and fishing lodges, according to Game and Fish. Al Condor, the agency's regional fishery supervisor, said Skelton was adding the crayfish, which provide forage for other species, gto grow more and bigger fish.h

The crayfish were discovered at Wagonhound during a site visit to evaluate a plan to move fish from one pond to another, Condor said. Until that point, rusty crayfish had not been found in Wyoming.

gWe were very lucky,h he said. gThey were in a fairly confined area.h
The ranch managers were unaware of the crayfish and, like Game and Fish, was an unknowing victim, he added.

After isolating the ponds and minimizing their size, Game and Fish employees used chemicals to kill anything living in the water.

gWe tried, basically, to eliminate anything that breathed with gills,h Condor said. gThere was no way to sort out the good crayfish, the bad crayfish, and the fish that remained in the ponds.h

According to U.S. District Court documents, Skelton was originally charged with three counts of transporting wildlife in violation of the Lacey Act, a federal law prohibiting trade in plant and animals that are illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold.

The charging document alleges that between 2002 and 2005, Skelton transported freshwater crayfish and freshwater shrimp from Colorado to the Wagonhound Ranch in Converse County and to the Fish On Ranch in Albany County, and transferred a variety of freshwater shrimp to the Masterson Ranch in Carbon County.

Wagonhound business manager Dustin Ewing deferred comment to Game and Fish. Representatives of the Fish On Ranch and the Masterson Ranch were unavailable for comment.

Condor said hefs as certain as he can be when dealing with biological systems that all crayfish were eradicated. The department will continue monitoring the sites, and may survey waters basinwide as well, he said.

gUnfortunately, if we find them in the North Platte, which I donft think we will, we just canft deal with that,h Condor said. gIt is really unfortunate that somebody with a new aquatic species has the ability to transform an entire aquatic ecosystem.h

Private landowners stocking ponds with fish is common in Wyoming, Condor said. Game and Fish requires a permit, which is free. The process ensures that illegal species and fish with disease arenft placed in water which could seep through drainages to other waterways downstream.