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Press Release

Southeast Resident sentenced for illegally killing, selling and failing to tag marine mammals

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Alaska

Anchorage, Alaska – U.S. Attorney Karen L. Loeffler announced today that Sherman Roger Alexander, 58, a resident of Ketchikan, Alaska, pled guilty and was sentenced to three violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act for his role in the illegal taking of 87 sea otters, the failure to tag the hides as required, and for the illegal selling of marine mammal parts.  Alexander was the fourth individual to be convicted and sentenced as a result of U.S. Fish and Wildlife undercover investigation into the illegal taking and selling of sea otters in Southeast Alaska.

            As part of the proceedings in court, Alexander pled guilty to three charges involving the illegal take, sale and recording of unlawfully taken sea otters.  Between April 23, 2008, and May 4, 2008, Alexander hunted sea otters with another person using that individual’s boat.  The boat owner/driver herded sea otters to Alexander and, after the otters were killed assisted Alexander with their transport.  Eighty-seven sea otters were killed during these hunts and Alexander unlawfully gave 14 sea otter skulls to the boat owner/driver after the hunts. Only Alaska Natives are allowed to take marine mammals and the charged hunting practice used by Alexander was illegal.  As to the other violations, Alexander failed to record any of the 87 otters he killed, as required by the law.  The approximate value of the illegally taken pelts is $30,000.  As to the third count, Alexander admitted to selling a sea otter blanket from an illegally taken sea otter to an individual who was not an Alaska Native.  The blanket also contained marine mammal parts that are illegal to sell to a non-Alaska native.

            Alexander received a sentence of 6 months home confinement, and was ordered to pay a fine of $10,000, forfeit 144 sea otter hides and serve probation for a period of one year.  During that one year period, Alexander is not allowed to hunt, nor partake in any business involving sea otters.  The United States agreed with the court that Alexander could teach tanning and other skills to other members of the Haida/Tlingit community during his term of probation or home confinement.

            Alexander was the fourth individual sentenced in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s undercover operation into the illegal take of sea otters.  In 2009, Christopher R. Rowland, a non-Alaska Native and resident of Craig, Alaska, was sentenced to 37 months in prison, a fine of $5,000 and 3 years of supervised release as a result of his conviction in federal court on felony charges of violating the Lacey Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, among other crimes.

            At the time of Rowland’s sentencing, the United States Attorney’s office advised the court that Rowland was extensively engaged in the illegal hunting, killing, and export of sea otters, sea lions and harbor seals and the illegal sale of their pelts.  As explained to the court, the investigation started as a response to a concerned citizen’s tip that non-Alaska Natives were illegally killing sea otters for their pelts.  IN following leads subsequent to this tip, the investigation developed into a two-year undercover operation into the illegal killing and commercialization, by non-Alaska Natives and Alaska Natives alike, of sea otters, seals, and sea lions, and all of which are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  During the undercover investigation, agents documented the activities of Rowland, Alexander, Michael Smith and Douglas Smith in the illegal take of sea otters, the illegal sale of their pelts, and the failure to record and report harvest data as required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act as well as the sale of animal parts from animals protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The undercover operation revealed that Rowland conducted frequent and well-planned hunting trips to harvest sea otters and sell their pelts on a commercial scale and without regard to the consequences of his illegal activities.  Rowland informed agents that he researched the regulations and laws governing sea otters by anonymously contacting various government agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for information on marine mammal rules and regulations.  Thus armed with regulatory and legal information, Rowland gained a clear understanding on how best to conceal his crimes, and was able to put that understanding into practice.  Rowland also took the additional steps to maximize his hunting time at sea by studying the work of biologists and other population distribution studies of sea otter populations in Southeast Alaska. From these habitat and population studies, Rowland learned of the best sea otter rafting and congregation areas where the mammals would present a larger concentration of targets.

In April, 2010, that Douglas Linn Smith, a resident of Craig, Alaska, was sentenced to one year in federal prison after pleading guilty to two felony charges of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and a single violation of the Lacey Act.  In connection with his guilty plea and sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki advised the court that Smith, who is not an Alaska Native, was involved in a conspiracy to illegally take, transport, sell, and attempt to sell illegally killed sea otters on the open market via the internet. He also pled guilty to the sale of parts of a Steller’s Sea Lion, an marine mammal listed as threatened in Southeast Alaska by the Endangered Species Act.

            In July, 2011, Sitka resident, Michael E. Smith, 36, was sentenced by the Honorable Leslie Longenbaugh, United States Magistrate Judge for the District of Alaska, to six months imprisonment for illegally selling two tanned sea otter pelts to an undercover officer in violation of the Lacey Act.

            Smith, an Alaska Native, illegally sold two whole sea otter pelts to a non-Alaska Native undercover agent for $800 in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The tanned pelts were then shipped outside of Alaska to the undercover agent in violation of the Lacey Act.  As part of his sentence of six months imprisonment, Smith was placed on a one year term of supervised release and during that time cannot hunt, or in any way participate in the take, sale or manufacture of marine mammals or marine mammal products.  Smith was also required to forfeit a firearm used in connection with the offense.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement (USFWS-OLE) led the investigation that led to the prosecution of these individuals and the investigation benefitted significantly from the support of Alaska Wildlife Troopers, NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Law Enforcement, U. S. Forest Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Marshals Service, the State of Alaska Attorney General’s Office, the Alaska Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Enforcement, and the U. S. Attorney’s Office. 

Updated January 29, 2015