Under cover of darkness, three men in a 17-foot skiff depart from the Homer harbor. It's late at night, not exactly the time for a pleasure cruise.
Dock workers are suspicious, especially when they notice that the men aren't heading out with a couple rods and reels, but with gear more suited to commercial fishing longlines and hooks. A call goes out to the authorities, who decide to set up a sting operation.
Five days later, after observing the men leaving the harbor each night and returning with boatloads of fish, officers move in.
Alaska State Troopers with the Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement announced Wednesday that they had arrested two men, Lendys (Roy) Morrison, 41, of Kenai and Daniel Bowen, 36, of Seward last month on a number of charges, including violation of a landing permit, prohibited conduct, operating commercial fishing gear without the required permit, possessing fish without the required permit and being over limitations for halibut. Morrison also was charged with violating conditions of probation.
A third suspect in the case, 40-year-old Bruce Gaskill of Homer, is still sought by authorities.
According to troopers, the men were engaging in a for-profit operation that included heading out onto the water at night, returning with halibut and selling the fish to local restaurants and individuals on the central Kenai Peninsula.
"The majority of it was being sold to restaurants or people they knew up there in the Kenai-Soldotna area," said Trooper Todd VanLiere with the Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement.
VanLiere said troopers and officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service which is in charge of keeping tabs on the highly-regulated halibut quota fishery were notified of the activity Sept. 1.
"National Marine Fisheries officers received information from the harbor master's office in Homer," VanLiere said.
He said dock workers noticed the skiff, an aging, 17-foot craft, leaving the harbor at strange times of night.
"That kind of made them suspicious of what they might be doing," he said.
Troopers and NMFS enforcement officers decided to set up a sting, and sat at the harbor for five days watching the activity. In addition to seeing the men in the process of fishing, the officers also observed Morrison and Bowen selling fish to a restaurant.
"We observed all that activity by undercover plainclothes officers and using unmarked vehicles," VanLier said.
The arrests were made Sept. 6. He noted that the case is unusual because the halibut fishery is closely monitored by NMFS and even minor violations are taken extremely seriously.
"(Individual Fishing Quotas) are so regulated, it's not a common thing at all," he said.
Troopers said additional charges may be filed in the case.
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