AGFC denies permits for Hot Springs fish farmer

LITTLE ROCK - The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will not renew two fish farmer permits for Rex Allen Curtis of Hot Springs, who has a history of complaints from consumers about deceptive business practices.

Since at least the late 1990s, Curtis has operated commercial fish-supply businesses in Hot Springs, Lonoke and Jonesboro under various names, including Arkansas Fish Hatchery, Arkansas Fish Hatchery Express, Delta Supreme Fish Farm, and Arkla-Texoma Fish Hatchery. In late December 2008, Curtis submitted applications to the AGFC to renew his two commercial permits.

The AGFC notified Curtis in early January that it did not intend to renew the permits because:

*Curtis was convicted of illegally selling wildlife in Illinois (a Class A misdemeanor) in 2007;

*Curtis does not operate a fish farm at the address he supplied on the fish farmer permit application, and

*Curtis has been the subject of numerous complaints from consumers about unfair or deceptive business practices.

After Curtis received letters that denied the permits, he requested an administrative hearing with AGFC officials. The hearing was set for 1 p.m., March 16. However, an attorney representing Curtis informed AGFC officials late that morning that Curtis was withdrawing his request for a hearing. As a result, the decisions to deny the permits became final.

In a related matter, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel filed a complaint against Curtis March 13 in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

According to the complaint, Curtis has attempted to defraud consumers in Arkansas and other Southern and Midwestern states for 20 years through a "systematic, planned and coordinated scheme."

The attorney general's filing states that, "through the use of deceptive advertising, the defendant has repeatedly defrauded consumers who were interested in his promised 'free fish' for private ponds and lakes." Consumers who responded to the ads were told the fish were not free, rather "buy one, get one free."

Customers who agreed to the buy-one-get-one-free offer were asked for partial payment before fish would be delivered. Some customers complained that if fish were delivered, they were few in number, sick, dying or not the species ordered. Customers also have said they were pressured into buying more fish than they needed for small ponds.

Curtis does not own or operate a fish hatchery. He sometimes buys fish from hatcheries in Arkansas and other states. "In short," states the complaint, "the defendant's advertised claim that he owns and operates a fish hatchery is identical to his advertised claim of 'free fish' - false, misleading and deceptive."

Curtis was named in an Arkansas attorney general's lawsuit for deceptive practices related to catfish farming in 1989.

McDaniel's filing seeks restitution and an injunction to stop Curtis from deceptive and unlawful practices, as well as a $10,000 penalty for each violation. It also asks that all licenses and permits held by Curtis be forfeited, and that he pay court fees.