ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Kodiak fish-processing company pleaded guilty Friday to a federal felony charge of underreporting the amount of pollock purchased from a fishing boat.
International Seafoods of Alaska Inc., which operates one of the largest processing plants in Kodiak, was fined $150,000 and put on probation for five years under a plea agreement with prosecutors.
The company also must pay another $46,000, the estimated market value of pollock illegally received. And it must run ads in the trade journal National Fisherman acknowledging its guilt and the importance of the fishing industry making accurate catch and production reports to government fishery managers monitoring the health of ocean fish stocks.
U.S. District Judge James K. Singleton accepted the plea in an Anchorage courtroom Friday.
International, which is part of the global business holdings of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, could have been fined up to $500,000.
A felony case is pending against a former International manager, and authorities are weighing action against the owners of trawlers that made excess deliveries to the plant, said assistant U.S. attorney Joe Bottini.
A woman hired by trawler captains to keep track of the weight of fish being unloaded from their boats at the plant reported discrepancies to officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service, which regulates commercial fishing in federal waters off Alaska, Bottini said.
The case goes back to early 1999 and involves boats delivering fish in excess of a 300,000-pound pollock ''trip limit.'' The limit, used as a tool to prevent overfishing, meant that boats were not supposed to deliver loads greater than that weight to the processing plants.
The plea agreement focuses on the case of the trawler Amber Dawn, which on Jan. 22, 1999, delivered 312,464 pounds of fish to International. The agreement says International employees knew the load was over the limit but agreed to purchase all the fish and prepared a ''fish ticket'' that falsely reported the load at only 296,115 pounds. A subsequent weekly production report submitted to NMFS underreported the delivery by 16,349 pounds.
The 110-foot Amber Dawn sank in March in the Bering Sea, killing two crewmen.
Investigators have identified nine instances during early 1999 where boats made deliveries over the limit, Bottini said.
Michael Spaan, an Anchorage attorney for International, called the case ''record-keeping errors'' that International employees made possibly to accommodate fishermen.
''There was no profit to the company,'' he said.
Gerald Bruce Ensley, 55, a former assistant plant manager, has been charged with aiding and abetting the purchase of unlawfully taken fish and is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on July 11, according to court papers. He faces up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.
Gary Gailbreath, a NMFS enforcement agent in Anchorage, disputed the notion that International didn't stand to gain. Fish plants depend on deliveries from fishermen, and a boat captain who knows his catch is overweight might be inclined to take his fish to a plant that will fudge the numbers, he said.
''It really was giving them a competitive advantage,'' Gailbreath said of International.
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