American Seafoods Faces Additional Scale-Tampering Charges

Tuesday, May 14 2013

Two Bering Sea groundfish catcher-processor vessels have been accused of tampering with the scales used to weigh their harvest. As KUCB’s Stephanie Joyce reports, the alleged violations carry hefty penalties for the vessels’ parent company, American Seafoods.

The charges levied against the Northern Eagle and Ocean Rover essentially amount to stealing fish. The technical charge is that the vessels “adjusted their flow scales to record lower weights.”

“A flow scale looks like a short, five-foot section of conveyor belt, and it’s designed to weigh catch at rates of up to 100 tons an hour,” says Alan Kinsolving. He manages at-sea measurement for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He says when flow scales are properly calibrated, they’re accurate to within a percentage point. When they’re not:“At 100 tons an hour, a small amount of fraud means a lot of fish.”

Basically, if the scales are recording less fish than is actually being harvested, vessels are able to go over their individual allocations, and that amounts to stealing.

That’s what NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is accusing American Seafoods of doing. The charging documents allege the Northern Eagle’s scales were off by as much as 27 percent during approximately 130 hauls in 2012. The Ocean Rover is accused of inaccuracies as high as 25 percent during roughly 60 hauls in 2011. Both vessels are also accused of inaccurately recording their catch weights in official log books.

American Seafoods faces fines of $1.3 million and $850,000 respectively for the alleged violations.

The company declined to speak on tape about the charges, but issued a press release saying, “American Seafoods takes seriously its commitment to sustainable fishing practices and has cooperated fully with NOAA in investigating these matters.”

This isn’t the first time an American Seafoods’ vessel has been accused of scale-tampering. Last January, NOAA filed a notice against another company vessel -- the American Dynasty, which recently ran into a Canadian warship in British Columbia. NOAA alleged that the American Dynasty had been misreporting the weight of its hauls for much of 2007. American Seafoods disputed the charge, and that case is still pending.

For these latest alleged violations, the company has 30 days to respond, or to pay up.

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