Southeast fisherman pleads guilty for ordering crew to shoot whale

A Southeast Alaska fisherman has agreed to plead guilty to a federal misdemeanor after admitting that he directed a crew member to shoot a sperm whale northwest of Sitka in March 2020.

According to federal court filings, Dugan Daniels, 54, also tried to ram the whale with his fishing boat, the Pacific Bounty.

The whale died, according to the court filing.

In addition, Daniels agreed to plead guilty to a felony for lying about a sablefish catch in fall 2020, according to the text of the plea deal.

The charges and the plea deal were filed by federal prosecutors earlier this month and were first reported by Court Watch, a newsletter that monitors federal legal filings nationwide.

Under the terms of the agreement covering all the charges, Daniels will pay a $25,000 fine and be sentenced to no more than six months in prison, with the exact term to be set by a judge.

He also will perform 80 hours of community service, and if he owns, operates or manages a commercial fishing boat in the future, it must be monitored by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Daniels is a board member of the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, which oversees fish hatcheries in southern Southeast. He had been appointed to the board to fill a vacancy, and had been serving since January.

In testimony about Southeast king salmon harvests before the Alaska Board of Fisheries in March, Daniels listed his hometown as Coffman Cove.

Reagan Zimmerman, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Alaska, said the office is “unaware of any prior criminal case involving the taking of a sperm whale in the District of Alaska, so this is a first of its kind case.”

The case was investigated by the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, she said. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the parent agency of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

According to the plea deal, Daniels recounted his encounter with the whale, “specifically, his crew shooting the sperm whale, his efforts to ram the whale with the vessel and coming within five feet of doing so, and his desire to kill the sperm whale,” in text messages to multiple people.

The incident occurred in the Gulf of Alaska about 30 miles west of Yakobi Island, near Pelican, according to court filings in the case.

Sperm whales can be more than 50 feet long. They’ve been listed as an endangered species since 1970. Decades ago, sperm whales learned to pluck commercial fishermen’s catch from their gear, gaining an easy meal but costing fishermen a day’s work and ruining gear.

The plea deal explains the sablefish charge: Daniels falsified fisheries records so that it appeared his boat caught more than 12,000 pounds of sablefish — also called black cod — in federal waters. In reality, federal prosecutors said, he caught the fish in state waters of Clarence Strait and Chatham Strait, where the fishery is tightly regulated to only permit holders. Daniels did not have a harvest permit.

Court records show Daniels is scheduled to appear in court at Juneau on June 6 to be arraigned and formally enter his guilty plea.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization. The Anchorage Daily News contributed to this report.


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