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Auditors question spending at Louisiana fisheries agency

BATON ROUGE, La. — Here are some preliminary findings from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's office, which raises questions about spending in the state's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries from 2010 through 2015. A draft of the audit report was obtained by The Associated Press and hasn't been released publicly yet.

—Less than half the 2,376 fish samples expected to be tested in a seafood safety program financed by BP were collected. A biologist wasn't always present for the sampling, auditors say, and the sampling operation was overseen by an employee who "did not have supervisory or biology education or experience." Unnecessary boats, fishing equipment, cameras and computers were bought with the money, according to the draft report, which says the fish testing team spent $3 million on testing of 1,091 samples that couldn't determine fish safety, the equivalent of $2,796 spent per tested fish.

—Federal grant funds were spent to buy a $220,000 used boat, motors and a trailer "that appeared to have little or no benefit to the agency," has been used twice since 2012 and have cost nearly $38,000 to maintain and repair, according to the auditors.

—Auditors questioned another $764,000 in clothing and uniform purchases, sponsorship spending and contracts, saying some of the spending wasn't properly documented to prove it was needed for state business or a public purpose.

—Nearly $134,000 was paid, for example, to a university for the design and upkeep of a website that benefited two private entities that host annual fishing rodeos. The department "did not provide justification that these expenditures created a public benefit proportionate to its cost and may have violated the Louisiana Constitution, which prohibits the donation of public funds," the draft audit says.

—A used plane was bought with $1.8 million in federal grant money, but the department didn't follow the state's inspection requirements. Damage to the plane that were found after the purchase, the draft audit says, could cost the state up to $581,000 in repairs.