Fuglvog Pleads Guilty, But Feds Likely Have Bigger Fish to Fry

By Margaret Bauman

September 2011

Veteran commercial fisherman Arne Fuglvog, former fisheries aide to US Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, faces sentencing Nov. 18 on a misdemeanor violation of the Lacey Act involving falsifying sablefish individual fishing quota records.

Fuglvog made a plea deal with federal authorities, in which he pleaded guilty to charges that he harvested 63,000 pounds of sablefish from an area near Yakutat in 2005, more than twice the amount of sablefish that his permits authorized him to catch there.

The plea bargain called for a 10-month prison sentence, a fine of $50,000 and a community service payment of $100,000.

The bigger news still to come about this case is who else will find themselves in big trouble over federal fisheries violations. In a sealed document, part of Fuglvog’s agreement, the former member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has agreed to providing unspecified “information” to the government. US District Court Judge H. Russel Holland said that that “addendum” to the plea agreement could result in a reduced sentence for Fuglvog, who remains free, without posting any amount of bail, until sentencing.

As Shannyn Moore, a popular political blogger based in Alaska, put it, “Arne is not the biggest fish they are catching. Arne is bait, and every fisherman knows you have to have fresh bait to catch bigger fish.

“They are going to get bigger fish on the hook with this,” said Moore, herself a former commercial fisherman. “When the corruption in fisheries comes out, it will make oil corruption look like Girl Scout cookie embezzlement.”

News of Fuglvog’s plea agreement and subsequent resignation from Murkowski’s staff has sent waves through the fishing industry, making a lot of people fairly nervous about exactly what information Fuglvog might disclose to federal authorities. Some in the industry have responded by voicing their concern that the actions of this highly visible figure in fisheries politics is giving a bad name to good fisheries management everywhere. Others are at least figuratively biting their nails.

There was initial reluctance from either Murkowski or United Fishermen of Alaska to comment on Fuglvog’s dilemma.

After his plea became public, Murkowski issued a statement saying:

“Prior to joining my staff, Arne Fuglvog violated a fishing regulation by misstating the location where he caught sablefish. I accepted his resignation Sunday, and he will plead guilty to this charge as part of a plea agreement. Arne served Alaskans for the past 5 years on my staff and for over a decade before that in his public service work in fisheries. I thank him for his years of service, but he knows the importance and value of our fisheries, and he also knows what all fishermen understand: fishing laws and regulations must be followed. Arne has cooperated fully with the authorities, taken responsibility for his actions, and accepted the consequences.”

Murkowski said she did not learn of his plea agreement until June 29. According to public salary records, Fuglvog earned $89,000 in 2009 and $91,000 in 2010 as a member of Murkowski’s staff.

United Fishermen of Alaska, which had backed Fuglvog for appointment as assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, also initially declined comment on the plea deal, then said in a letter to members, prompted by a journalist’s questions, that UFA had not received any emails or phone calls or other communications regarding the investigation of Fuglvog other than from a source they did not find credible.

Margaret Bauman can be reached at margieb42@mtaonline.net.