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Alaska Beat

Fourth Southeast Alaskan convicted of illegally taking, selling sea otters

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published January 19, 2013

A Ketchikan businessman and artist was fined $10,000 and ordered to home confinement for six months after pleading guilty to three violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, including illegally taking 87 sea otter pelts.

Sherman Alexander, 58, was ordered to forfeit a total of 144 pelts.

According to the Juneau Empire, Alexander and his partner, Ellen Bishop, founded and operated Soft Gold Furs in Ketchikan. The company website says:

"I'm a Haida Indian and I live in Ketchikan. … I have a line of over a dozen ready made seal and sea otter products. I am pleased to offer you fine hats, mittens, gloves, muffs, scarves, purses and slippers made with sea otter and seal fur. I also make beautiful wallets and purses out of seal skin. I'm a state and federally licensed bear and fur sealer and a sea otter tagger."

Since criminal charges were brought, the business has closed.

Alexander is the fourth Alaskan to be convicted and sentenced following U.S. Fish and Wildlife undercover investigations into the illegal taking and selling of sea otters in Southeast Alaska.

The others:

• Christopher Rowland, a non-Native resident of Craig, Alaska, who in 2009 was sentenced to 37 months in prison and fined $5,000 for illegally hunting, killing, and exporting sea otters, sea lions and harbor seals, including the animals' pelts.

• Douglas Smith, another non-Native resident of Craig, who was sentenced in April 2010 to one year in federal prison after pleading guilty to two felony charges of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act as well as a single violation of the act. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki said Smith conspired to illegally take, transport and sell sea otters that were killed illegally, using the Internet to market them.

• Michael E. Smith, 36, of Sitka, was sentenced in July 2011 to six months in prison for illegally selling two tanned sea otter pelts to an undercover officer in violation of the Lacey Act. Smith, an Alaska Native, illegally sold two whole otter pelts to a non-Alaska Native undercover agent for $800 in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

According to prosecutors, for about a month in the spring of 2008, Alexander and a companion hunted sea otters in that person's boat. The boat owner herded sea otters to Alexander, who killed them. According to the Juneau Empire, the companion was an undercover agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Fish and Wildlife estimated the value of the illegally taken pelts at $30,000.

Prosecutors agreed with the court that Alexander could teach tanning and other skills to members of the Haida/Tlingit community during his probation or home confinement.

According to the Empire, Bishop, a former elementary school teach, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Longenbaugh that she and Alexander were victims of entrapment.

She said that before 13 Fish and Wildlife agents showed up at her door in 2008, they had fielded repeated requests to engage in illegal activity. "The entrapment was so over the top, it's hard to take in. Little did we suspect it was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials trying to entrap us," Bishop said.

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