A crew member aboard a factory processor has been arrested in Unalaska and accused of stealing another man’s identity to get his commercial fishing license.
Just like rain gear or Xtratufs, commercial fishing crew licenses are essential for anyone working on a Bering Sea boat. And they’re pretty easy to get.
Robin Morrisett is a sergeant with the Alaska Wildlife Troopers. He says all it takes to get a crew permit, is a driver’s license and a Social Security number.
“Some people say, ‘Ooh, we didn’t know that the pursers or the chefs, the cooks on the boats are supposed to have it.’ But they do [have to],” Morrissett said.
Twenty-five-year-old Luis Valenzuela was a cook aboard the Gordon Jensen, a 300-foot factory trawler owned by Icicle Seafoods. When troopers boarded the vessel earlier this month for a routine check, Valenzuela showed them his crew license.
But trooper Thomas Lowy says something about it didn’t look right.
“We found that that driver’s license didn’t come back to him. It came to another individual,” Lowy said. “And that’s kind of what started the whole process — just trying to figure out who he was.”
The troopers worked with federal immigrations officials, and according to their research, they say that Valenzuela is actually an undocumented immigrant from Nogales, Mexico.
Valenzuela was arrested in Unalaska and charged with felony forgery, along with two misdemeanors. One is for participating in commercial fishing as an undocumented immigrant. And the other is for criminal impersonation.
He faces up to seven years in jail and $75,000 in fines.
It’s not clear whether anyone else is going to face legal action. When Valenzuela started working on the fishing vessel Gordon Jensen, he got his commercial crew license from a vendor aboard the ship.
But the troopers say they have no reason to believe that Icicle Seafoods found anything wrong with Valenzuela’s papers.
And to make matters more complicated, Icicle didn’t actually hire Valenzuela. They went through a Sitka employment agency called Alaska Chefs 4 Hire.
Trooper Sergeant Morrisett says that contractor has been cooperating with the investigation. But they didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline.
Morrisett says the last time the troopers handled a case of alleged identity fraud was about two years ago.
“Here in Dutch Harbor, we have tons of people that are from other countries and stuff,” Morrisett said. “We catch these once in a while.”
And considering how many vessels the troopers patrol — and many crew permits they look at — every season, that’s not a lot.