• To Catch a Poacher


    The dictionary definition of poaching is to hunt or kill wildlife illegally. Under federal law, violations can result in fines or jail time.

    In the Pacific Ocean, catching a poacher in the act is difficult to do. The planet’s largest ocean is, to say the least, vast. Law enforcement has hundreds of millions of square miles to patrol, and it’s easy for a poacher to hide.

    It’s a wonder any get caught, especially high profile poachers like Sean Martin and Jim Cook of Honolulu, who are partners in several successful commercial fishing ventures in Hawaii and who have been chairmen of a federal fishing management council, Wespac, that helps regulate commercial fishing in American waters from Hawaii to the Mariana Islands. As members of the federal fishery management council, they violated regulations that they helped to write.

    As reported by the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement in Long Beach, Calif., the most recent of these poaching cases was settled in February 2004, eight months after Martin came on the council in 2003. (Martin has been the council’s chairman since 2007. Cook served a stint as council chairman in the 1990s).

    The case began in February 2003, when a longline boat owned by Martin and Cook was caught fishing in closed waters off the Main Hawaiian Islands. Cook and Martin agreed to settle the case for $7,000. As a result of this conviction, Cook and Martin agreed to pay another $1,000 civil penalty that had been assessed but suspended in a previous case. The repeat violation triggered the additional penalty.

    But this new violation did not automatically disqualify either man from serving on the federal fishing council. Wespac rules allow council members to continue on the council even after poaching convictions. In other words, no number of poaching convictions is enough to disqualify any person from serving.

    The other cases involving Cook, Martin or their companies included cases that occurred in:

    ·                   December 2001, when the Mariah, a longline vessel owned by Vessel Management Associates, a company owned by Martin and Cook, failed to submit its fishing log book in a timely manner. The company and the vessel’s operator, Peter A. Webster, paid a $500 civil penalty.

    ·                     March 2001, when NOAA cited Webster and Vessel Management Associates for illegal longline fishing and for falsifying its logbooks. This case also involved the Mariah. In a settlement agreement signed by Webster and Sean Martin, they agreed to pay a $3,000 civil penalty. Another $2,000 penalty was suspended if the respondents committed no further violations of federal fishing laws for five years.

    ·                     February 1999, when the longline vessel Northern Venture, owned by Vessel Management Associates and operated by Jerry Ray, was cited for illegally fishing within a closed area near the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. In a settlement agreement signed by Martin, a $10,000 civil penalty was assessed.

    ·                    August 1992, when a vessel owned by Cook and Martin, and operated by Ed Timoney (husband of a former Wespac council member, Timm Timoney), was cited for illegal lobster fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. In this incident, the vessel Petite One, owned by CMK Inc., a company owned by Cook, Martin and a third partner, was caught with about 616 undersized spiny lobsters, 292 undersized slipper lobsters and 562 female lobsters carrying eggs. They failed to maintain an accurate and complete daily lobster catch report and failed to accurately record required information in the ship’s logbook. They were fined $40,000 and paid a reduced penalty of $29,500. 

    ·                    This violation occurred at a time when the lobster population was in a steep, permanent decline in Hawaii. The highly endangered Hawaiian monk seal, thought to rely on lobster for a significant part of its diet, was also tumbling in a steep decline. Many young monk seals at the time were found to be starving to death.

    ·                    May 1991, Cook and Robert Harstad, owner and operator, respectively, of the longline vessel Kaimi, were fishing illegally for and unlawfully in possession of billfish and other associated species without a permit. They paid a civil penalty of $1,000.

    Interestingly enough, ignorance of the boundaries of fishing zones may not have been an issue in these cases. Martin and Cook own a state of the art vessel monitoring “war room” with computer screens that tracks, in real time, the exact location of each of their vessels. They knew what they were doing and where they were doing it.

    “They were like thieves in the night,” said Carol Cox, a special agent with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

    “To me,” says Paul Achitoff, an attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice in Honolulu, “they are just a bunch of pirates, lining their pockets on the public teat.”


    Posted by Cascadia Times on 06/04/11
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