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Oregon man sentenced for commercial halibut fraud on Fuglvog testimony

Alaska Dispatch
Aaron Jansen illustration

Bad-boy commercial fisherman Freddie Joe Hankins won't have to wear an ankle bracelet, but he will be electronically monitored when fishing off Alaska for the next several years.

U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland on Thursday ordered that for three years the fishing activities of the 47-year-old Oregon man be recorded by the federal, electronic Vessel Monitoring System. Hankins was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine and a $75,000 fine for illegally catching 31,000 pounds of halibut he sold in Kodiak in 2007.

Fishermen were getting about $4 per pound for halibut at the time, making the catch worth as much as $120,000. According to testimony at Hankins's trial, the fish were caught in an area for which he lacked Individual Fishing Quota, but then reported to have been caught in a faraway fishing area for which he did have quota.

How often this happens in the commercial halibut fishery is unknown, but some believe the practice to be all too common. It is a lot cheaper to fish close to port than far from port. The savings in fuel costs translate into big profits.

Catching violators is difficult. Longliners set thousands of hooks on ganglines along the sea bed and then leave the area to let them "soak'' before returning to haul in the catch. In the past, the longliners have opposed inclusion in the Vessel Monitoring System that tracks large ships at sea in the Gulf of Alaska.

Hankins would never have been caught had not fish pirate Arne Fuglvog rolled over on him. A former member of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, a former fisheries aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and a man seemingly on track at one time to become the director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Fuglvog turned out to be a major-league poacher.

Angry crew members finally turned the Petersburg, Alaska, native in to authorities. He was convicted of illegal fishing and served prison time. He has since been helping the government catch others.

Fuglvog, according to a press release from the United States Attorney, District of Alaska, "testified at the Hankins trial that he had fished with Hankins, and that Hankins had previously made similar false landing reports claiming he caught his fish in the more distant but legal area when in fact he caught them in the area closer to the port where the fishing was better...."

Hankins denied those claims, but Holland refused to believe him.