Boundary line change may have affected crabbers detected in Russia

Posted: Friday, January 31, 2003

KODIAK (AP) -- A change in the 1867 maritime boundary line between the United States and Russia may be the reason six Bering Sea crabbers were detected fishing in Russian waters last week, according to federal officials.

The six vessels were ordered to port by the Coast Guard on behalf of the National Marines Fisheries Service.

The boundary line was moved as much as 14 miles east in 1991, one federal officer estimated. Captains, using navigational programs linked to the global positioning system, may have been plotting their positions from the 1867 line rather than the 1991 line.

''One possibility -- the software provider may have been at fault,'' Susan Auer told the Kodiak Mirror on Thursday. Auer is senior enforcement attorney for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The six American vessels included the Alaskan Beauty of Kirkland, Wash., Fierce Allegiance of Edmonds, Wash., the Arctic Wind, Pacific Star, and Ocean Olympic of Seattle and the Adventure of Petersburg.

The boats were fishing in the Bering Sea during the opilio, or snow crab, season that closed Saturday.

The Adventure was ordered to St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands. Auer indicated that crab from that boat may not be seized.

''Little if any of the crab from the Adventure was taken from Russian waters,'' Auer said.

The portion of the catch seized will depend on how much crab federal officials believe came from Russian waters.

NMFS hopes to finish investigations by the end of next week, an officer said.

The five other boats were being offloaded in Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands.

A National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman said last week that the crab would be sold and proceeds held until investigations of the possible violations are completed. According to NMFS, an administrative law judge could impose forfeiture of the catch and the forfeiture could then be contested in Federal District Court.

The Coast Guard enforces the Lacey Act, which makes it illegal to import or acquire fish taken in violation of a U.S. treaty or foreign law.

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