Three family members who run a northern Minnesota resort have been charged with violating the Lacey Act, a federal law banning illegal traffic in wildlife, by allegedly using nets and other methods to harvest ciscoes, a prized bait fish.

Robert Dale LaTourell Jr., 50, and Melinda May LaTourell and Melissa Ann LaTourell, both 45, run a resort on Moose Lake near Ely, Minn. They have each been charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, according to a U.S. Attorney's Office news release.

"The defendants unlawfully imported, possessed, transported, and sold ciscoes for thousands of dollars of profit to bait retailers in Minnesota in violation of the Lacey Act," the news release said.

The LaTourells own and operate family businesses called LaTourell's Resort and LaTourell's Moose Lake Outfitters, which have existed for 65 years, according to the businesses' website, which features photos of the family at their resort with prominent Minnesota politicians over the years. Their resort sits on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness within the Superior National Forest.

The trio is charged with catching ciscoes — also known as lake herring or tullibees — using seine nets and other unlawful methods and then selling them to bait shops, gas stations and other retailers from October 2012 to December 2016. Seine nets hang vertically in the water, with the top edge floating and the bottom edge held down by weights.

Ciscoes are prized bait during winter fishing for lake trout and northern pike and fetch high prices for retailers.

As part of their business, the LaTourells provide guided canoe and fishing trips and boat towing. They also offer motorized portages at Prairie Portage, which is along the U.S.-Canada border, under a federal contract administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

They allegedly used the access provided by that contract "to enter the protected waters of the Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada on numerous occasions and used seine nets and other methods to unlawfully harvest ciscoes," the news release said.

The Lacey Act is a 1900 law that "enforces civil and criminal penalties for the illegal trade of animals and plants," according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

Under the law, it is illegal to import, export, sell, acquire or purchase fish, wildlife or plants that are taken, possessed, transported or sold either in violation of U.S. or Indian law, or in interstate or foreign commerce involving any fish, wildlife, or plants taken possessed or sold in violation of state or foreign law, the website says.

A phone call to the LaTourells was not returned Thursday.

Erin Adler • 612-673-1781