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Fishery accused of doctoring scales

U.S. seeks millions in fines against Seattle company

SEATTLE – Federal authorities are seeking fines of more than $2.7 million against Seattle-based American Seafoods, saying the company underreported its catch by doctoring the scales on its vessels.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the practice dated as far back as 2007 on three American Seafoods factory trawlers, which catch and process pollock off Alaska, the Seattle Times reported. The company operates six such trawlers in all, reports revenue of more than $500 million and is one of the major players in the North American seafood industry.

The feds say the scales were often off by 6 percent to 17 percent. By reporting lower weights, crews could process more fish than their federally allowed quota.

In one extreme case from 2007, a federal fishery observer aboard the company’s American Dynasty found that fish weighing 238 pounds registered as only 73 pounds – off by nearly 70 percent.

“Violations of this magnitude have the potential to severely impact fisheries if left unchecked,” Acting Special Agent in Charge Matthew Brown of NOAA’s Alaska Division said in a statement.

The company said it “takes seriously its commitment to sustainable fishing practices and has cooperated fully with NOAA in investigating these matters.” It will respond to NOAA’s allegations after completing a review, it said.

Alan Kinsolving, a NOAA official who works as a scale coordinator, said an average single haul in the catcher-processor pollock fishery is somewhere between 80 and 100 metric tons. A 10 percent underweighing of a 100-ton haul would amount to 10 tons of unreported fish.

In 2012, American Seafoods had an allocation of more than 185,000 metric tons of pollock, according to a report submitted to federal regulators.

Most of the company’s revenue comes from pollock in harvests managed by the federal government.

Aboard the American Dynasty, federal fishery observers that monitor the catches documented alleged violations during a two-year period ending in 2008. They repeatedly saw crew members adjusting the scales. Then, when observers checked the scales, they reported that scales weighed light, the newspaper reported.

Four years later, in January 2012, NOAA law enforcement issued the notice of violation against the company and the operator of the American Dynasty for the 2007 and 2008 incidents. Two more violation notices were issued last month, alleging violations that continued into 2012 aboard two other company trawlers, the Northern Eagle and American Rover.