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Company pleads guilty to illegal fishing in case of regulatory confusion

Devin Kelly

A Washington-based fishing corporation pleaded guilty in Cordova court on Monday to illegal fishing operations in state waters, authorities said.

An investigation by the Alaska State Troopers Wildlife Investigation Unit found that Fisherman's Finest LLC violated state law by catching and retaining 11,000 pounds of lingcod, according to a Tuesday statement from troopers.

The company owns and operates multiple commercial trawling vessels, and was using non-pelagic trawl gear -- nets that drag just above the open bottom -- to catch lingcod and other species, troopers said.

In July 2010 and 2011, investigators said, the F/V US Intrepid harvested more than 56,000 pounds of lingcod in the eastern Gulf of Alaska, which is state water. At the time, the company was operating under federal regulations as a test rockfish fishery, said Sgt. Brent Johnson, the investigating officer on the case.

The majority of the lingcod was released, but 11,000 pounds was retained and sold commercially, troopers said. Under federal guidelines, such activity was legal, but the state retains management control of that particular species, Johnson said.

Johnson said the case was spurred by confusion over state and federal regulations and "wasn't anything malicious."

"That's why there's such a low fine associated with it," he said. "It was pretty clearly a mistake, and they admitted it."

As part of a plea agreement, the corporation will pay a $12,500 fine with $2,500 suspended for a probationary period of three years, and pay a forfeiture of $10,326 for the illegal catch.

Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 257-4314.


By DEVIN KELLY
dkelly@adn.com