U.S. Fishing Vessels Harvested Russian Crabs

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U.S. Fishing Vessels Harvested Russian Crabs

Environment News Service

DUTCH HARBOR, Alaska, February 6, 2003 (ENS) - Five U.S. fishing vessels are under investigation for illegally harvesting crabs in the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off the coast of Alaska.

The vessels were ordered to Dutch Harbor by the U.S. Coast Guard after a Coast Guard aircraft and a cutter identified the vessels setting and pulling crab pots on the Russian side of the Maritime Boundary Line.

The alleged illegal crabbing occurred the week of January 19 in Russian waters off Alaska, and involved vessels from Washington and Alaska. More than 223,000 pounds of prized snow crab, also called Tanner or Opilio, were seized from the five vessels by special agent Ernie Soper, of the Office for Law Enforcement at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

The estimated value of the crab is almost $350,000. All of the vessels will be investigated for potential violations of the Lacey Act, which makes it illegal to acquire fish or wildlife in violation of international treaties.

"It's unusual to have U.S. boats illegally fishing in Russian waters," said assistant special agent in charge Mike Mahaffey.

The alleged illegal crabbing occurred days before the official closure of the Bering Sea snow crab fishery. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the fishery on January 26 when the U.S. fleet of 191 boats reached the snow crab quota of 23.7 million pounds.

The fishery reached this year's quota - down almost five million pounds from last year, in just 11 days, less than half the time of last year, when the fleet spent 24 days fishing in the Bering Sea.

Federal and state officials denied requests to increase this year's quota, saying populations of Bering Sea snow crabs are still depressed. In 1999, NMFS declared the stock to be overfished, and created a strict plan for rebuilding the crab populations.
 


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