Repeat Offenders: federal fishing officials violate federal fishing laws

By PAUL KOBERSTEINSean Martin, a member of the Wespac council since 2003, makes his living as a commercial fishermen. He also co-owns companies that manage vessels, an ice factory and Pacific Ocean Producers, the largest ship supply company in the islands. He's an activist as well, spearheading a battle to ease regulations designed to protect endangered species that come in contact with fishing gear. And as a member of Wespac, he's a regulator, helping to write the very rules that govern his business.

And sometimes, his business violates those very rules, according to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Six times in the last 15 years, Martin or his business partner James Cook (a former Wespac chairman) have been cited and fined for commercial fishing violations in waters off Hawai`i. The most recent was settled in February 2004, eight months after Martin came on the council.

A longline boat owned by Vessel Management Associates, a company that owns and manages vessels, was caught fishing in closed waters off the Main Hawaiian Islands in February 2003. Cook and Martin agreed to settle the case for $7,000. Cook and Martin also agreed to pay another $1,000 civil penalty from a previous case. That fine had been suspended if they committed no further violations. But with this new violation, NOAA’s Office of General Counsel withdrew the suspension and required payment, documents show.

Wespac rules allow council members to continue on the council even after they violate fishing laws. Other cases involving Cook, Martin or their companies include:

■ In December 2001, the Mariah, a longline vessel owned by Vessel Management Associates 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.

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

■ In February 1999, 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.

■ In August 1992, a vessel owned by Cook and Martin, and operated by Ed Timoney (husband of former Wespac council member Timm Timoney), was cited for illegal lobster fishing in the northwestern islands. 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. It 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.

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

Paul Koberstein