GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 31, 2013

Coast Guard, NOAA seize local boat's catch

By Times Staff
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — BOSTON — The U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA officials have issued a notice of violation for what they called a “significant fisheries infraction” after a Coast Guard crew boarded a Gloucester-based vessel Tuesday some 100 miles east of Cape Ann.

According to the Coast Guard, the F/V Princess Laura, a 90-foot slime eel and groundfishing dragger owned by Gloucester fisherman Joe DiMaio, was issued the violation for allegedly fishing under a Northeast multispecies permit utilizing a net liner — an illegal fishing gear configuration, Coast Giuard officials said.

The report from the Coast Guard indicated that crews from the Gloucester-based cutter Grand Isle noted the violation while conducting a boarding more than 100 nautical miles offshore. After issuing the violation, the Coast Guard escorted the vessel back to port in Gloucester and seized all of the vessel’s catch in collaboration with NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement and office of general counsel.

The catch was sold at what the Coast Guard said was “fair market value” in Gloucester, with the proceeds from that sale to be held in a suspense account pending final adjudication and forfeiture proceedings.

The notice of violation and catch seizure is the second reported by the Coast Guard in the new year, and the Coast Guard Statement noted that crews and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration crews “continue to conduct joint operations targeting vessels fishing illegally throughout the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.”

Those actions have continued despite a series of Department of Commerce investigations that found NOAA agents and law enforcement officials guilty of imposing excessive penalties and wrongly abusing an Asset Forfeiture Fund built with funds and other penalties collected from fishermen under the NOAA enforcement leadership of Dale Jones. Jones was forced aside in 2010, though he still holds a NOAA advisory position.

Capt. Peter DeCola, chief of law enforcement in the 1st Coast Guard District, which carried out the boarding, said the Guard’s enforcement remains vigilant.

“Intentional net liner usage and similar illegal gear configurations allow an individual vessel to gain an unfair competitive advantage over fishermen abiding by regulations,” DeCola said. “These regulations are designed to ensure sustainable fishing for all.

“Catch seizures are an excellent enforcement tool in serious cases like this,” said DeCola. “They minimize the financial incentive for fisherman who intentionally violate the rules. They maintain a level playing field for the industry as a whole.”