Ketchikan Residents Guilty Of Scheme To Illegally Fish And Sell Halibut
Anchorage, Alaska – U.S. Attorney Karen L. Loeffler announced today that on December 8, 2015, Michael Anthony Welker, 52, Shane Christopher Widmyer, 34, David Alan Vest, 39, all residents of Ketchikan, Alaska, pled guilty in federal court in Juneau to violating the Lacey Act by illegally transporting halibut that was caught for subsistence and sport purposes.
Each defendant pled guilty to a single count of a Lacey Act violation before United States Magistrate Judge Leslie Longenbaugh.
According to the information presented to the court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack S. Schmidt, who prosecuted the case, Donald Ray Thornlow, 66, the former owner and operator of the former Narrows Inn and Restaurant in Ketchikan, Alaska, took part in a continuing scheme of knowingly purchasing subsistence and sport caught halibut for resale in his restaurant, a violation of federal regulations. Defendants Welker, Widmyer, and Vest illegally harvested halibut for a commercial purpose using sport fishing licenses and subsistence halibut permits. The defendants subsequently transported the illegally caught halibut and sold it to Thornlow who then sold the fish in his restaurant. The defendants were not allowed to catch halibut for a commercial purpose because none of the defendants possessed a valid Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) permit. The defendants each admitted to transporting a portion of the 997 pounds of illegally-caught halibut sold by Thornlow in his restaurant from January 2012 to December 2013. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Vest will pay a $5,000 fine, Welker and Widmyer will pay a $3,500 fine and all defendants will be sentenced to a term of probation for three years. Thornlow was previously sentenced to a one year term of probation starting on October 19, 2015, and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.
Prior to imposing the sentences, Magistrate Judge Longenbaugh indicated the seriousness of the offense and the need to deter the defendants and others, as well as the need to protect Alaska fishery resources.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement, Alaska Enforcement Division conducted the investigation leading to the charges and conviction in this case.