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Senator's aide faces jail for fishing violation

Casey Grove,Sean CockerhamMcClatchy-Tribune News Service

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's fisheries aide has resigned and faces prison time after admitting to breaking commercial fisheries laws.

Arne Fuglvog, who has long played an influential role in Alaska fisheries politics, will be sentenced to 10 months in jail if a judge agrees to his plea deal on the charge of falsifying fishing records. The deal also includes $150,000 in fines and an admission of guilt.

Fuglvog has agreed to plead guilty to one count of violating the Lacey Act -- a federal law prohibiting the sale of illegally taken wildlife, fish and plants -- by harvesting twice as much sablefish as he was allowed and then lying about where he caught the fish. According to the plea agreement, Fuglvog falsified records of his commercial catches several times between 2001 and 2006 while operating a boat called the Kamilar. He would fish in one area and report he'd caught the fish somewhere else, the document says.

Fuglvog joined Murkowski's staff in September 2006. Murkowski is refusing to say when she learned that her fisheries adviser was under investigation for fisheries crimes, only saying that the crimes were committed before he joined her office.

Fuglvog signed the plea agreement on April 8. There is no sign, at least publicly, that Murkowski took any action against Fuglvog before accepting his resignation on Sunday, right before his plea agreement was to go public.

"Arne served Alaskans for the past 5 years on my staff and for over a decade before that in his public service work in fisheries," Murkowski said in a written statement. "I thank him for his years of service, but he knows the importance and value of our fisheries, and he also knows what all fishermen understand: fishing laws and regulations must be followed.

"Arne has cooperated fully with the authorities, taken responsibility for his actions, and accepted the consequences."

Pressed for answers about why Murkowski is refusing to talk about what she knew, her spokesman Matt Felling declined to discuss it.

"This is an ongoing legal issue, so we cannot comment further at this time," he said by email Tuesday evening.

As a legislative assistant to Murkowski, Fuglvog was paid $91,600 in 2010, according to U.S. Senate salary records.

In 2009, Fuglvog was a finalist to head the National Marine Fisheries Service, with the backing of the United Fishermen of Alaska. The Gloucester Times , a Massachusetts newspaper that closely covered the selection process, reported that Fuglvog was the front-runner for the job, with only one other candidate known to have been interviewed for the post. But Fuglvog abruptly pulled his name from consideration in July 2009, saying the selection process was taking too long.

Fuglvog, who is from Petersburg, was appointed to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2003 by then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, Lisa's father. He remained on the council until joining Lisa Murkowski's Senate office in 2006. Fuglvog had also been on the advisory panel for the fishery council from 1995 until 2003.

According to his plea agreement, Fuglvog was falsifying the records of his commercial catches while he was on the council.

The plea agreement says it happened several times between 2001 and 2006, and gave the example of an incident from 2005.

In 2005, Fuglvog's permit allowed him to catch about 30,000 pounds of sablefish -- also known as black cod -- in the western Yakutat area. But Fuglvog instead hauled in roughly 63,000 pounds of the deep-sea fish and tried cover up the illegal fishing by attributing more than 30,000 pounds to a catch in the Central Gulf area, according to his plea agreement.

The excess fish were valued at about $100,000, the document says.

If a judge accepts the plea agreement, Fuglvog would serve 10 months in prison and pay a $50,000 fine. He would also have to pay $100,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and, as a condition of his release, make an announcement in the National Fisherman Magazine admitting his wrongdoing. In return for his agreement with the deal, federal prosecutors are promising to "not prosecute the defendant further for any other offense -- now known" arising from the investigation.

"It has been the greatest privilege of my life to work for Senator Murkowski on behalf of Alaska," Fuglvog said in a written statement provided by his lawyer, Jeff Feldman. "I have been so fortunate to serve the people and state that I love. I deeply regret the mistakes I made before I came to work in the U.S. Senate and fully accept the consequences of my actions."

According to a short biography posted online by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory program, Fuglvog is a fifth-generation fisherman. He is a past recipient of the U.S. National Fisherman Highliner of the Year and United Fishermen of Alaska's Fisherman of the Year awards.

Fuglvog campaigned for Murkowski during last year's U.S. Senate race, where she lost in the Republican primary and then won election as a write-in candidate.

He wrote an "open letter to the fishing industry" in November, saying he would not work for any other U.S. senator.

"It is such a personal job and you have to trust and believe in the person you are working for. You don't have to agree with everything that they do or believe in, but you must believe in their honesty, integrity and motives," Fuglvog wrote.


By CASEY GROVE and SEAN COCKERHAM
Anchorage Daily News / adn.com