Fuglvog guilty of federal fishing violation

Amanda CoyneThe New York Times

Arne Fuglvog, former fisheries aide to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, pleaded guilty Thursday in a federal courthouse in Anchorage to a misdemeanor violation of the Lacey Act. The act 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 him to catch in that area, according to details provided in the plea deal Fuglvog signed, which was made public Aug. 1. 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.

U.S. District Court Judge Russel Holland accepted the plea. A sentencing hearing is set for Nov. 18, but might be expedited. If Holland agrees to the terms Fuglvog made with prosecutors, he 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.

It was also revealed in court today that a sealed document, which is part of Fuglvog's agreement, lays out the terms of Fuglvog's cooperation with the government, including providing the government with "information." It's unclear what kind of information Fuglvog has provided, or if he is continuing to provide such information. Fuglvog and his lawyer declined comment. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Steward said such an agreement was standard and declined to comment further.

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 Fishery Management Council.

In 2009, he was an apparent finalist for the top spot at the National Marine Fisheries Service, according to the Alaska Journal of Commerce. The United Fisherman of Alaska endorsed Fuglvog for the spot and sent letters on his behalf during the candidate search. Fuglvog didn't get the job.

Sen. Murkowski, speaking to the Anchorage Daily News last week, said that her office had known of allegations against Fuglvog since December or January, and that Fuglvog told her on June 29 that he had been formally charged and would enter a plea deal on Aug. 1.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com