Settlement reached in crab fishing cases

Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) The federal government announced Friday it has settled four cases against U.S. ships that were fishing for crab in Russian waters of the Bering Sea.

The owners and operators of the Arctic Wind, Fierce Allegiance, Ocean Olympic and Alaskan Beauty had been charged with violating the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Lacey Act.

The agreements call for the boats to forfeit all the illegally taken crab, which is valued at about $222,000, said Susan Auer, an attorney with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's office in Juneau. The settlements also require payment of penalties totaling $59,000.

Charges are still pending against a fifth vessel, the Pacific Star, Auer said.

The violations appear to have been the result of the vessel operators using an out-of-date NOAA chart that showed an 1867 boundary line between Russia and the United States, Auer said. A 1990 agreement between the United States and the former Soviet Union replaced the 1867 boundary.

The Magnuson Act is a ''strict liability statute,'' so ignorance of the boundaries did not protect them from legal liability, Auer said.

The ship owners cooperated with the investigation, she said.

The violations were first detected early this year when vessel monitoring system data collected by NOAA Fisheries showed two of the ships fishing inside Russian waters. A U.S. Coast Guard aircraft found the other vessels fishing in Russian waters, except for the Alaskan Beauty, which reported its own violations after learning about the other cases.

Adm. James Underwood of the 17th Coast Guard District said the cases were unusual because the Coast Guard usually finds foreign ships violating the boundary line by fishing in U.S. waters.

''However, it was a clear violation of U.S. law, and it provided another opportunity for the Alaska federal law enforcement team to work together enforcing the law,'' Underwood said.

An attorney for the vessel owners did not return a phone call Friday afternoon.

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