Alaska News Nightly: August 11, 2011

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Fuglvog Pleads Guilty to Lacey Act Violations

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Arnie Fuglvog pleaded guilty to federal Lacey Act violations in federal court in Anchorage Thursday. As part of a plea deal reached with federal prosecutors, Fuglvog will be released  on his own recognizance, pay no bail.   Fuglvog is charged with falsifying fishing records in 2005.

At the time, he was a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Judge H. Russel Holland presided over the arraignment Thursday morning, asking Fuglvog if he understood all aspects of the proceedings.

Fuglvog only answered “yes sir” when Judge Holland questioned him regarding the plea arrangement. The plea agreement involves a 10 month prison sentence plus a fine. If the judge rejects the plea deal, Fuglvog can withdraw his guilty plea. The process would start over and Fuglvog could then request a jury trial.

Lacey Act violations carry a one-year prison sentence and a $100,000 fine.

Federal prosecutor Andrea “Aunnie” Steward told the court that Fuglvog had cooperated fully throughout the process.  Steward said the government is not seeking Fuglvog’s detention at this time and has no objections to allowing him to travel to Canada in the near future.

She said if the judge accepts the plea agreement at sentencing in November, the fine will total $150,000.

Steward said Fuglvog no longer owns his Individual fishing quota or IFQ because he had divested himself of them before the court proceedings got underway. She says NOAA cases of this nature would typically involve some type of sanction or seizure of the IFQ.

Judge Holland then outlined the sentencing guidelines, telling Fuglvog and defendant attorney Jeff Feldman that the court will make its own decision on how the guidelines will be applied.   Holland then told Fuglvog that he still had time to walk away from the deal and seek a jury trial.  Fuglvog waived that option, and entered a guilty plea to charges that he knowingly submitted false records and that the fish he caught at the time were intended to cross state lines.

Both Fuglvog and attorney Feldman were tight lipped as they left the courthouse.

Judge Holland accepted the plea of guilty as charged, and has set a sentencing date for November 18.

Coast Guard Commandant Investigating Possible North Slope Installations

Brianna Gibbs, KMXT – Kodiak

Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Bob Papp is in Alaska.  He toured the North Slope along with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who left Wednesday. But the Commandant remained in Barrow, looking into what sort of installation the Coast Guard might put there, now that Salazar’s Interior Department has awarded the permits for Shell to drill in the Beaufort Sea.

The Admiral said the Coast Guard will need to have some sort of search and rescue presence on the North Slope, and he needs to be prepared to make recommendations

Papp is being accompanied by Alice Hill, a top aide to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.  Before heading north, both of them made a visit to the 420-foot Coast Guard icebreaker “Healy,” which was in Kodiak preparing for a research cruise in the Arctic Ocean.

The Healy is the nation’s only functioning ice-breaker.  The other two Coast Guard ice-breakers, the “Polar Star” and “Polar Sea” are both in dry-dock undergoing repairs. Admiral Papp says there is now an outside study that says the nation needs at least six ice-breakers

Admiral Papp plans to testify about his findings at a field hearing of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard tomorrow at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.

Study Shows Arctic Sea Ice May Stabilize

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A new study shows Arctic sea ice may stabilize or even bounce back for brief periods in the coming decades.

ADF&G Will Remove Invasive Sea Squirt From Sitka Harbor

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

The State of Alaska plans to remove an invasive species of sea squirt from Sitka’s Whiting Harbor. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game will slip bags over nearly 100 nets that are part of an oyster farm in Whiting Harbor. The nets have been taken over by the invasive animal. The bags, with the nets inside, will be hoisted out of the water and disposed of.

Charlie Swanton is the director of Sport Fish for ADF&G. He briefed the Assembly on the plans Tuesday evening.

“We are certainly hoping to have this done within the next two to three weeks, depending upon availability of those divers,” he said. “We’re in the process, as of today, to line up those divers.”

Fish & Game will then look at securing the structures around the harbor and removing them for destruction. Swanton says that won’t be cheap.

“It’s likely just the superstructure alone is going to be an exercise that’s probably going to cost well over $100,000 when you start thinking of the docks that are in there, and all of the other material that’s in there,” he said. “That doesn’t say anything for where they’re going to be disposed of, and subsequent to that, what the best method is for removal of that which is actually on the rocks and the substrate in Whiting Harbor.”

Swanton says it’s his belief that the oyster farm in Whiting Harbor has been put out of business by the invasive tunicate, known as Didemnum vexillum, or D.vex. The small animal, which lives in colonies, coats everything in its path, choking out the ability for plants and mussels to feed or grow. Other areas, including Puget Sound in Washington, have spent thousands attempting to dispose of the small animals.

They were first discovered in Sitka’s Whiting Harbor last year.

Group Seeks Wolf Endangered Species Listing

Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan

Conservation groups filed a petition with the federal government Wednesday to protect the Alexander Archipelago wolf under the Endangered Species Act. The groups contend that logging and road-building on the Tongass National Forest have put the wolves in jeopardy.

Point Baker Considers Post Office Loss

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

What’s a post office mean to a small community? Just ask folks in Point Baker, a Southeast fishing town threatened with the loss of one of its few institutions.

Point Baker’s
fewer than 30 year-round residents live along a small bay on the remote northwest tip of Southeast’s Prince of Wales Island. Others come to visit its few small lodges and bed and breakfasts. Or they stop to pick up mail or supplies while trolling or gillnetting in nearby waters.

That makes its post office an important link to the rest of the world.

“It’s one of the only real benefits we receive from the federal government – that we can see,” says longtime resident Sam Carlson.

He remembers the days when a freight boat carried staples into Point Baker every few weeks. That’s no longer the case.

“All of our groceries, right now, are mailed out from Ketchikan by parcel post. And it’s actually almost reasonable, the money you pay. To lose that, you’d have to run into town and the closest town is 50 miles away by boat or airplane. It would create many hardships for just about everybody out here,” he says.

Carlson is one of many Alaskans worried that the local post office might close. Point Baker, Douglas, Circle, Kobuk and Platinum are among three dozen towns on a tentative closure list.

Some 3,600 post offices nationwide are threatened under a federal money-saving plan. Carlson says people need to know his town’s post office, in a multipurpose building, is important.

“It actually contributes a lot to the community, the money we get from the rent from the federal government. It helps run the community building so when other people do come in they can use the facilities, get off their boats and go check out the library or whatever,” he says.

Point Baker is a short boat trip away from Port Protection, a slightly larger Prince of Wales Island fishing town. Its residents also use Point Baker’s post office.

Beyond that, the nearest towns of any size are Wrangell, Petersburg and Craig. All are 50 or more miles away – by boat or small plane.

St. Paul Island Celebrates 100th Anniversary of Northern Fur Seal Treaty

Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska

Last week, the best party in Alaska might have been on an island in middle of the Bering Sea. KUCB’s Alexandra Gutierrez traveled to St. Paul for the festivities and to find out why they were significant for one rapidly disappearing species.

Inupiaq Filmmaker Having Trouble Getting Award-Winning Film to Audiences

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

An Inupiaq filmmaker is finding it hard to get his film shown to audiences, even though “On the Ice” has been shown, and won awards, in venues such as the Sundance Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival.