UNALASKA (AP) -- A South Korean factory trawler was released from custody in Dutch Harbor Thursday after paying a $750,000 fine for illegal fishing in U.S. waters, federal officials said.
The 310-foot Orchid was seized Sept. 23 by the Coast Guard cutter Jarvis in the Bering Sea. It departs with 377 metric tons of frozen pollock, despite a domestic factory trawler association's demand that the fish be donated to food banks.
''The best thing to do is to keep that fish out of the marketplace. That's the strongest disincentive for the incursions over the line,'' Trevor McCabe, executive director of the At-Sea Processors Association, said on behalf of Bering Sea pollock factory trawlers.
Illegally harvested fish ''should not be released for sale in the domestic or world markets where they would compete with products legitimately produced by the U.S. pollock industry,'' McCabe wrote to the U.S. Attorney's office in Anchorage. The Aug. 23 letter referred to the seized Chinese factory trawler Ming Chang, released with 375 metric tons of frozen pollock after posting a $1.5 million bond on Aug. 30.
On Thursday, McCabe said his group maintains the same position for other seized vessels, including the Orchid.
McCabe said foreign factory trawlers crowd the international boundary because of overfishing in Russia.
''The fishing is not very good on their side,'' he said. ''That's why they're right up against the line,'' he said.
Coast Guard Captain Vince O'Shea said a Coast Guard aircraft on Sept. 18 spotted 93 vessels fishing in Russian waters within 20 miles of the U.S. boundary, and 69 within five miles.
O'Shea also blamed Russian overfishing for the crowded maritime boundary. ''The known Russian exploitation rate is almost double what U.S. scientists use as the exploitation rate for our side,'' he said.
The domestic fishery's annual harvest rate is a sustainable 18 percent of adult pollock per year, compared to 32 percent in Russia, according to O'Shea, who represents the Coast Guard on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.
The Coast Guard has seized four vessels for illegal fishing in the Bering Sea this year. The South Korean factory trawler Kum Kang San paid a $300,000 fine on Sept. 30. The Russian trawler Spitak paid a $180,000 fine on Sept. 3.
O'Shea said incursions have declined from 90 last year to 26 this year, and fines are the highest ever.
''Our seizures are up this year, which indicates a high degree of Coast Guard response and more cooperation with the Russians,'' O'Shea said. ''It's a great success story compared to the difficulties we had last year.''
Since last year, a Coast Guard admiral visited Russia, and a Russian general came to Alaska, resulting in joint boardings of fishing vessels by the Coast Guard and the Russian border authorities, O'Shea said. Most incursions don't result in seizures because the boats retreat back into Russia before a Coast Guard cutter arrives, or rough weather prevents safe boardings, O'Shea said.
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