COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio fishery and three individuals have been cleared of wildlife violations in what investigators alleged was abuse and waste of game fish.

A judge in Oregon Municipal Court ruled that the state had failed to prove its case against Szuch Fishery Inc., The (Toledo) Blade reported. He found the Curtice-based operation, its two owners and an employee not guilty of more than 20 violations and ordered the state to pay costs related to the case.

Investigators from the state Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife had alleged that employees intentionally injured a rare trophy-size fish in western Lake Erie in March. Officials also accused employees of removing fish from nets, breaking their spines and throwing them back in the lake.

Michael Szuch’s attorney Erik Wineland denied the allegations, saying the fish were removed from the net and immediately put back in the water. “In regard to the muskie fish, we don’t believe that the state has any evidence to show that this fish was mistreated in any way,” Wineland said.

Holly Szuch told the newspaper that their business and reputation had suffered considerably as the case lingered in the pandemic-slowed court system. Szuch Fishery, a family entity fishing the lake commercially since 1938, had received threatening mail and a barrage of negative comments online, she said. In addition, she was abruptly removed from a Great Lakes Fishery Commission advisory post she had held for more than a decade, she said.

“Everything we went through – I knew it wasn’t right,” Holly Szuch said

Natural resources department representative Sarah Wickham declined comment on the ruling.

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