Canadians Chase U.S. Scalloper for Illegal Fishing
BOSTON (AP) _ A fishing vessel that rammed a Canadian patrol boat that had tried to stop it for allegedly poaching in Canadian water was boarded by the Coast Guard when it reached port Thursday.
The Bountiful, from New Beford, was allegedly seven nautical miles into Canadian water, about 165 miles east of Nantucket, when it was spotted Wednesday by the patrol boat.
By escaping to American water, it probably dodged severe Canadian penalties but may still face action under U.S. law.
The skipper of the Bountiful, David Saunders, denied he was fishing in Canadian territory and said the patrol boat rammed him after threatening to fire.
″They deliberately ran me down,″ he said.
″They told me to get everybody off the deck because they were going to open fire,″ said Saunders. ″I said we’re an unarmed vessel. There’s 10 unarmed guys here, you can’t shoot me.″
Asked why he refused to stop for the Canadians, Saunders said ″Would you stop if someone was stopping you with a .50-caliber? I’m not stopping.″
It was the sixth incident in a year-long boundary dispute between American fishermen and Canadian patrols.
″It’s really inconceivable that two countries as close as ours, politically, geographically ... can’t resolve matters as relatively uncomplicated as this,″ said Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass., a senior member of the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee.
The chase lasted 140 miles and about 18 hours.
The Canadian patrol boat Cygnus chased the Bountiful into the 200-mile U.S. exclusive economic zone where it was rammed by the fishing boat, said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Jack Mason. No injuries or serious damage were reported.
The Canadian government denied the Cygnus crew permission to fire warning shots across the Bountiful’s bow after it was rammed.
The Bountiful was boarded by the Coast Guard when it docked Thursday, and National Marine Fisheries officials took stock of the catch.
Ken Crossman, special NMFS agent for the Northeast, said his investigators would share information with Canadian officials, who could prepare an arrest warrant only executable in Canada.
If the Canadians provide sufficient documentation to prove the Bountiful was illegally fishing, ″then separately, through U.S. prosecution channels, the boat is subject to prosecution″ under U.S. law, Crossman said.
Under federal law, the boat’s captain could face a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and a year in jail for transporting an illegal catch.
″That may shed a little light for you on why it’s so important to these fishermen to not be caught by the Canadians where they face several hundred thousand dollars (in fines) under Canadian law, as well as physical arrest and detention of the boat,″ Crossman said.
Incidents along the so-called Hague fisheries line - the line set by the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands, in 1984 to separate U.S. and Canadian marine zones - are on the rise because fishing stocks on the U.S. side are being depleted and the Canadians are aggressively patrolling their area.
A New Bedford boat was recently pursued by the Canadians for 14 hours. Last year, Canadian patrols fired on another New Bedford scalloper, the Donna Lynn, after its captain refused to let officials board, claiming the boat was in U.S. water.
Canadian officials maintain the American fisherman are intentionally crossing the boundary. But Studds has said that the crossings are simply mistakes.
According to a Studds aide, Jeff Pike, five of the six navigational charts issued to American fisherman by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contain U.S.-Canadian border errors of up to four miles.