NOAA Wins First Prosecution Using Vessel Monitoring System

Thursday, December 13, 2001
A December 5 ruling against a New Bedford, Mass., - based fishing vessel and its captain was the first federal fisheries prosecution based exclusively on vessel-tracking data gathered by the satellite-based Vessel Monitoring System, reported the National Marine Fisheries Service, an agency of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. U.S. Coast Guard Administrative Law Judge Edwin M. Bladen assessed a $250,000 fine and ordered the permanent revocation of the federal fishing permit of the fishing vessel Independence, owned by Lobsters, Inc., and the federal vessel operator permit of its captain, Lawrence M. Yacubian, for repeatedly entering an area closed to fishing. "We are increasingly relying on satellite technology to monitor fishing near closed areas, and this decision supports the hard work that NOAA Fisheries enforcement agents put in to protect marine fisheries for honest fishermen," said Bill Hogarth, NOAA Fisheries director. NOAA Fisheries uses VMS to assist in monitoring compliance with closed-area regulations under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The F/V Independence was required to carry a VMS unit. The scallop vessel was tracked by the VMS from Dec. 9 to 11, 1998, as it made several incursions into an area closed to protect spawning groundfish approximately 160 nautical miles off the coast of Massachusetts. The initial VMS report put the vessel 1.36 nautical miles inside the area. Using radar and other onboard navigational systems, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Wrangell also tracked Independence inside the area and confirmed a second incursion. "This case sets an important precedent by holding that the VMS system in use on scallop vessels in the Northeast is an accurate, reliable technology capable of producing evidence of vessel activity admissible in a court of law," added Charles R. Juliand, lead NOAA prosecutor handling the case. Judge Bladen found that Independence repeatedly entered the closed area located approximately 160 nautical miles off the coast of Massachusetts. The judge also stated that, together with a significant monetary penalty, the removal of intentional violators would send a clear and loud message to the fishing industry that purposeful and sustained incursions into closed areas will bring meaningful sanctions. "The significance of this case was that the judge accepted VMS data as evidence that the vessel was inside the closed area," said Special Agent Louis Jachimcyzk of NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement, case agent for the IF/V Independence investigation. "This type of information had never been used, on its own, to prove a closed-area case." NOAA Fisheries is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation's living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement, and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.
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