Tribal fishermen charged in illegal harvest of fish

KONP Radio

(Seattle, WA - 1/2/03) -- A Neah Bay couple will be sentenced in March on federal felony charges of conspiracy and false statements arising from a West Coast Groundfish investigation. Makah Tribal Member Patricia Balderson and her spouse Brad Balderson plead guilty to the charges earlier this month. The couple operated the Windsong 2 Fish Company in Neah Bay.

Authorities say during 1999 and 2000, the Balderson's filed false reports with the State which hid the illegal harvest and sale of 215,000 pounds of fish worth $650,000, including halibut, sablefish and other West Coast groundfish species. Five of the nine species listed as over fished by the National Marine Fisheries Service were represented in the unlawful harvests.

State Department of Fish and Wildlife Chief Bruce Bjork says the key break in the case came in March of 2000, when Fisheries, Makah Tribal and NOAA Office for Law Enforcement served search warrants on Windsong 2 Fish Company and on Olympic Seafoods in Seattle. Officials found a large number of falsified fish tickets which concealed landings of tribal and non-tribal fish in excess of the trip limits.

Brad and Patricia Balderson are scheduled to be sentenced before US District Court Judge Jack Tanner on March 7 at 10 AM. They each face a maximum of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and supervised release of up to three years. Officials says more indictments of tribal and non-tribal fishermen are to follow based on statements and information acquired during the joint operation.


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