On Monday, the U.S. Attorney's office in Anchorage charged Arne Fuglvog, fisheries aide to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, with a single, misdemeanor violation of the Lacey Act, an act that combats "illegal" trafficking in wildlife, fish, and plants.
While working as a commercial fisherman in 2005, Fuglvog took 63,000 pounds of sablefish from an area near Yakutat, more than twice what his permits allowed, according to details provided in the plea deal Fuglvog signed, which was also made public on Monday. After overfishing, Fuglvog falsified reports to cover up the take, stating that the fish had instead been harvested from an area known as the "Central Gulf,' according to prosecutors, adding that he then went on to sell the catch for about $100,000.
Fuglvog has known about the charges for at least several months. Although the plea deal was made public earlier this week, it's signed and dated nearly five months ago, in April, and is referred to as a "negotiated resolution."
If a judge agrees to the terms of the plea deal, Fuglvog will spend 10 months in prison, pay a $50,000 fine and send another $100,000 – approximately the same amount he profited from the illegal fishing – to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for enhancing fisheries in the coastal areas of the Gulf of Alaska.
He will also have to admit his wrongdoings in an announcement in National Fisherman Magazine.
Fuglvog's legal woes also brought a swift end to his five-year career with Sen. Murkowski as a fisheries aide. One day before his crime was made public, he left his job.
"Prior to joining my staff, Arne Fuglvog violated a fishing regulation by misstating the location where he caught sablefish. I accepted his resignation Sunday, and he will plead guilty to this charge as part of a plea agreement," Murkowski said via e-mail.
Fuglvog not only served under Murkowski, but spent many years before that in fisheries public service work, she said. "He knows the importance and value of our fisheries, and he also knows what all fishermen understand: fishing laws and regulations must be followed," she said, adding that "Arne has cooperated fully with the authorities, taken responsibility for his actions, and accepted the consequences."
Fuglvog comes from a longtime fishing family in Petersburg and has spent at least three decades chasing salmon, crab, halibut and other species, according to a 2007 biography. He has years of experience advising and serving on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.
Fuglvog is scheduled to be arraigned on the charge and enter a guilty plea next week.
Murkowski's office would not comment on how long the Senator had been aware of the investigation into Fuglvog's illegal fishing, and what response, if any, was taken or whether he had been taken off of fish policy issues. At the time his resignation was accepted, Fuglvog was still employed as a legislative assistant - the same generic job title he's held throughout most of his career with the Senator. Fuglvog earned $83,000 in 2009 and $91,000 in 2010 as part of Murkowski's staff, according to salary records.
Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com