GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 1, 2013

Boat owner disputes illegal 'liner' charge

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

---- — The owner of the Gloucester trawler Princess Laura, which faces civil charges for using an illegal “net liner” in its trawl net, said Thursday that the Coast Guard mistook some gillnet that had been picked up while hauling back on a groundfishing trip about 100 nautical miles east of Cape Ann for an illegal liner — or double netting system.

Owner Joe DiMaio said the Coast Guard confiscated about 25,000 pounds of mixed groundfish, which was sold at Gloucester’s Buyers and Seller Exchange — or BASE —auction for “fair market value” on Wednesday, with the proceeds held pending final adjudication of the case. Officials could not verify any monetary value of the catch.

Lesli Bales-Sherrrod, spokeswoman for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement in Silver Spring, Md., said, “the size of the catch sold and the amount of money held in a suspense account pending final adjudication and forfeiture proceedings is not available because this matter is under investigation. As you know, we cannot discuss ongoing investigations,” Bales-Sherrod said.

DiMaio maintained Thursday that the crew aboard his boat was not acting illegally.

“The Princess Laura gets all kinds of gillnet gear in its nets,” DiMaio said in a telephone interview. He referred the Times to the captain of the boat, Robby Robbins, who could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The Coast Guard Sector Boston public affairs office referred questions to the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement in Gloucester. Special Agent in Charge Logan Gregory did not respond to telephone calls about the case, which the spokesman for the Coast Guard said began with a random and routine boarding of the 90-foot Princess Laura Tuesday. Bales-Sherrod said in an email that NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement will produce a case package from which NOAA’s Office of General Counsel’s enforcement section will determine the precise terms of the charges.

“This is the second violation we have issued for net liner usage this year to a vessel targeting Northeast Multispecies (groundfish),” said Capt. Peter DeCola, chief of law enforcement for District Boston. “Intentional net liner usage and similar illegal gear configurations allow an individual vessel to gain an unfair competitive advantage over fishermen abiding by regulations.”

Using a net liner — or a second inner net — effectively reduces the mesh opening, due to the crisscrossing of the nets.

Trawlers like the Princess Laura fish with long bag-like nets held down by trawl doors, gather their haul along the bottom as the boat proceeds at a slow speed, and then reel in the net in the haul back.

Made of woven monofilament of variable mesh size, gillnets, unlike the mobile trawl gear, are stationary, and are suspended from floats capturing their harvest by the gills as the fish trap themselves.

Both trawl and gillnet fishermen said Thursday it is not atypical for a trawler (or “dragger, as the mobile gear boats are also known) to haul back with debris that can include gillnet sections or run through gillnets — especially at night when the floats are harder to see. According to the spokesman for Sector Boston, the boarding took place late at night.

The Princess Laura was boarded by crews from the Coast Guard cutter Grand Isle, which is assigned to Station Gloucester and is moored just about 100 yards north of the mooring for the Princess Laura at the Jodrey Fish Pier.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.