Brine shrimp rustling on the Great Salt Lake certainly sounds like a good story. But it's a good story that isn't true, according to Box Elder County investigators.
"Yea, basically (the media) have made something out of nothing at all," said Detective Dale Ward of the Box Elder County Sheriff's Department. "It wasn't any big deal to begin with, and it (publicity) has turned into everybody's worst nightmare."Ward is referring to what he says are exaggerated accounts of brine shrimp rustling on the Great Salt Lake - reports that grabbed the attention of the Wall Street Journal. Ward is even quoted in the article about brine shrimp rustling but denies he ever made such statements.
"Our complaints out there deal with trespassing," said Ward. "Not theft of brine shrimp eggs."
Talk about rustling and other shenanigans perpetrated by and against rival harvesters is common. And there were even prosecutions long ago for such thefts. "But we haven't had any thefts of brine shrimp eggs," said Ward. "We've had burglaries and theft of equipment, but not eggs."
Some brine shrimp harvesters have fanned the suspicions that a great brine shrimp war is brewing. When two brine shrimp harvesting boats burned, there was immediate suspicion it was arson.
"A lot of people wanted it to be an arson," he said. "But the investigation shows the fires were accidental." An electrical problem on one boat loaded with fuel apparently caused the fire to spread to a second boat, also loaded with fuel.
The dispute on the north shores of the Great Salt Lake is centered around the private property that adjoins the lake. Land owners - some of them companies intent on harvesting brine shrimp eggs that wash up on the beach - have restricted the access routes to the lake.
About 20 legitimate brine shrimp harvesters hold state permits to harvest shrimp eggs from the waters of the Great Salt Lake, which is government property. But they must first find a way to get their boats across private property to the water.
Land owners are uncooperative, prompting some brine shrimp harvesters to violate the "no trespassing" signs. "Even that is no big deal," said Ward. "It's a standard trespassing violation."
Ward doesn't doubt that the highly competitive business has spawned feuds between rival harvesters. And those feuds may even involve the taking of shrimp eggs of disputable ownership.
"But those are civil problems," Ward said. "We haven't had anything to do with those problems. They handle them themselves."
The harvest of brine shrimp eggs has hatched into a multimillion business in Utah.