Minnesota Fishermen Face Large Fines For Customs Violations
BABBITT, Minn. (AP) _ Anglers living near Canada who take short jaunts over the border with their bait and tackle are being fined thousands of dollars for re-entering the country without notifying U.S. authorities.
Although the crackdown in the remote areas, where no border stations or patrols are located, applies to anyone crossing the border, most Minnesotans who do so are outdoors enthusiasts lured by the region’s many lakes and streams. And the anglers say they are shocked and angry about the fines.
Fisherman LeRoy Aho, one of the anglers snared, said he was told by Customs officials recently that he was fined $3,800 for three fishing trips he took with some buddies last summer.
″There are quite a few guys in the area who got letters. I don’t know what they (Customs officials) are trying to do,″ said the 43-year-old angler. ″I’ve been fishing in Canada since I was 16. I had absolutely no knowledge that I had to turn anything in.″
Customs officials say the law requiring people to report when they re-enter the United States is not new. But it is being enforced now because Customs officials recently learned that the law was being violated, said Bill Knoblauch, district director of the U.S. Customs Service in Duluth.
″It did come to our attention recently that this was evidently happening. We just actually got the names in the last couple of weeks. If we find out about it, we’re obligated to penalize them. It’s the law,″ Knoblauch said.
He would not say how violations are detected, but said anyone who does not report after returning to the United States could be fined.
Knoblauch said the problem is widespread along the Minnesota-Canada border, a wilderness area with many lakes. The Customs department, as part of the crackdown, recently placed signs near the border and distributed pamphlets to outdoors stores to tell people about the law.
James Zupancich of Ely said he has been cited for five trips to Canada last summer and $5,000 in fines by the U.S. Customs Service.
″I’m not paying it. This is nothing but a scare tactic,″ Zupancich said.
Kurtis Swanson of Babbitt also received notice of violations, but would not say how much he has been fined. ″I’m not going to pay them. I’m going to try to get this straightened out,″ he said.
Aho, who lives in Babbitt, also said he would fight the fine.
Knoblauch said people don’t necessarily have to pay the amount shown on the letters, which is the maximum fine possible. If they can show extenuating circumstances, the fines may be reduced, though probably not forgiven, he said.
The maximum fine is $100 for the person who fails to report, plus $500 to that person for each passenger traveling with him. Authorities also may seize merchandise and the person’s vehicle, Knoblauch said.
Knoblauch said Customs officials allow people to report by telephone, so there is no travel distance involved.
″They can report by phone,″ he said. ″Most of them probably are coming in with nothing but fish. That’s no big deal. What we want is the option to examine them, question them. We want to be on record that we’re going to make a little bit stiffer effort.″