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Fishing Boats Consider Foray For Crab Pots In Disputed Area

August 9, 1986

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ American fishermen are considering returning to disputed waters in the Bering Sea to retrieve 150 crab pots abandoned when a boat was chased from the area by Soviet vessels, the Coast Guard said Friday.

The Coast Guard had not decided whether to provide an escort requested by the fishermen, said spokesman Lance Jones in Juneau.

The 108-foot crabber Katie K was one of 60 vessels fishing for crabs west of St. Matthew Island when it was approached Wednesday by Soviet vessels. The Katie K was about 160 miles west of the island in an area claimed by the United States and the Soviet Union.

One of the Soviet vessels notified the Katie K it was fishing in Soviet waters and attempted to come alongside, the Coast Guard said. The other Soviet vessel fired two flares and started lowering a small boat.

The Seattle-based Katie K headed for Alaska with the Soviet vessels in pursuit. They stopped following after an hour and 40 minutes, said Mark Farmer, another Coast Guard spokesman.

On Friday, the Katie K and other American fishing boats were about 120 miles west of St. Matthew Island, Jones said.

″They are trying to decide on two courses of action: return to the disputed area as a group to retrieve the pots and then back out, or request a Coast Guard escort into the area to retrieve the pots,″ Jones said.

A crab pot, measuring six feet by six feet, sells for $200 to $300.

A Coast Guard cutter will head to the area after completing a fisheries enforcement patrol nearby, but the agency has not decided whether the cutter will provide an escort, Jones said.

A statement issued Friday said the State Department had brought its concern over the incident to the attention of Soviet authorities.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, said it was ″inexcusable that the Soviets should have harassed our fishermen in this way.″

The ownership of the area has been in dispute since Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867. The dispute is over whether the line drawn when Alaska was sold was an international boundary or a less significant maritime boundary. The exact location of the line also is in dispute.

Included in the disputed area is a 20,000-square-mile sliver of the Navarin Basin, a potential oil field and a highly prized fishing ground.

The Soviet Union says the treaty sets a straight line for the boundary. The United States says the line is an arc, following the curvature of the Earth, which would give the United States a 1,000-mile sliver of the continental shelf.

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