After leaving IPHC, Kauffman calls violation ‘honest mistake’
An executive from a Community Development Quota group blamed a regulatory mix-up for the fishing violation that forced him to resign from the international commission regulating halibut harvests.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement charged Jeff Kauffman and two other men in March with possessing more than 10,000 pounds of halibut over their combined quota limits for a violation that occurred in June 2012.
Kauffman is the vice president of the Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association, the Community Development Quota group for the island of St. Paul.
CDQ groups are six organizations representing 65 Alaska villages within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast that receive 10.7 percent of the total Bering Sea groundfish quota annually.
The charges resulted in a $49,000 settlement — about $13,000 less than original fine — and cost Kauffman’s Alaska resident seat on the International Pacific Halibut Commission.
He resigned on June 22. The joint U.S.-Canadian body has governed halibut quotas and regulations by international treaty since 1923, and has three commissioners each from the U.S. and Canada.
Kauffman chalked the violation up to a regulatory mix-up. The violation occurred around June 5, 2012, while Kauffman fished for halibut around St. Paul with Mike Baldwin and Wade Henley, the captain of the F/V Saint Peter. CBSFA owns 100 percent of the vessel.
The attorney for the three men objected to Kauffman being charged along with Baldwin, the CBSFA board of directors chair, on grounds that the captain is solely responsible.
In his resignation letter, Kauffman described the violation as an “honest one, and one of a low tier,” that resulted only in a civil charge, not a criminal charge, without damaging the halibut resource.
“The Notice of Violation and Assessment makes clear there was no intent to deceive or steal,” said Kauffman in a statement. “The quota holders held quota for every pound caught in each regulatory area. The Vessel Monitory System and the logbook were in perfect alignment.”
Still, he acknowledged in his letter that he accepts the U.S. Department of State’s zero tolerance policy for violations among its appointed officials. IPHC commissioners are presidential appointments. Kauffman was only named to the IPHC in December to replace Don Lane of Homer.
“I understand that my ignorance of the technicalities of the regulations is no excuse, and I am prepared to pay the consequences — in more than one way,” he said in his statement.
The violation concerned holding halibut onboard from multiple regulatory areas.
The IPHC sets limits for halibut removals in various regulatory areas and quota for the areas are issued through Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ.
The Bering Sea is Area 4, subdivided into sections labeled A-E. In 2012, the three men aboard the F/V Saint Peter fished 14,000 pounds of halibut in 4A.
Kauffman and the other two men claimed they moved away from Area 4A when whales began eating the hooked fish from their gear, a common problem in longline fisheries.
The F/V Saint Peter moved into Area 4D and fished another 10,000 pounds, then returned to Area 4A.
According to regulations, one vessel fishing multiple areas cannot hold more halibut than the unharvested total all quota holders possess for a single regulatory area.
“The difference between a violation and no violation in this instance is simply the order in which the areas were fished,” wrote Kauffman in a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service. “Had we caught all the 4A IFQ before fishing in 4D, there would’ve been no violation because there was enough unfished 4D IFQ (40,000+ pounds) to cover the 14,000 pounds harvested in 4A. Instead, we fished 4A until the whales showed up, went to 4D and caught roughly 10,000 pounds and then returned to 4A to finish the trip. Because there was not enough unfished IFQ in 4A to cover the 4D quota previously harvested, a violation occurred.”
Two different bodies oversee halibut removals in the North Pacific: the federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the International Pacific Halibut Commission.
Kauffman also serves on the Advisory Panel to the North Pacific council, a 20-member stakeholder group that makes management recommendations to the council.
Though the State Department cannot tolerate violations from its commissioners, Kauffman’s role on the Advisory Panel is less certain; council members have not yet discussed the matter. He remains certain about continuing on the panel though, and said he doesn’t plan to step down.
According to the NOAA regulations, a vessel cannot retain more halibut than the “total amount of unharvested IFQ or CDQ, applicable to the vessel category and IFQ or CDQ regulatory area(s) in which the vessel is deploying fixed gear, and that is currently held by all IFQ or CDQ permit holders aboard the vessel, unless the vessel has an observer aboard under subpart E of this part and maintains the applicable daily fishing log prescribed in the annual management measures published in the Federal Register pursuant to § 300.62 of this title and § 679.5.”
According to the 2012 Pacific Halibut Fishery Regulations, “halibut caught in more than one of the Regulatory Areas 4A, 4B, 4C, or 4D may be possessed on board a vessel at the same time provided the operator of the vessel has a NMFS-certified observer on board the vessel as required by NMFS regulations published at 50 CFR Section 679.7(f)(4); or has an operational VMS on board actively transmitting in all regulatory areas fished and does not possess at any time more halibut on board the vessel than the IFQ permit holders on board the vessel have cumulatively available for any single Area 4 regulatory area fished; and can identify the regulatory area in which each halibut on board was caught by separating halibut from different areas in the hold, tagging halibut, or by other means.”
Kauffman said the F/V Saint Peter crew followed IPHC regulations to the best of their knowledge.
“Had we understood the technical difference between CFR Section 679.7(f)(4) and the language in the Halibut Fishery Regulation handbook, we would have simply finished fishing in 4A before moving into 4D,” explained Kauffman.
Kauffman’s resignation happened four years after the violation occurred. It took over three years for NOAA to make an initial enforcement report.
NOAA enforcement office Jerod Cook wrote the enforcement action report on Oct. 27, 2015, and transmitted the report to Henley on Dec. 29, 2015. The official Notice of Violation and Assessment, or NOVA, was filed March 1, 2016 by NOAA General Counsel enforcement attorney Brian McTague.
The original enforcement action only named Henley. Only later were Kauffman and Baldwin added to the March 1 NOVA.
In a letter to McTague, attorney Tom Wyrwich argued against including Kauffman and Baldwin in the NOVA, saying the captain’s decision shouldn’t affect the crew.
“The only ‘person’ who chose to ‘retain’ or ‘possess’ the halibut in question is Mr. Henley,” reads a letter dated April 15. “It is unclear how Mr. Kauffman’s status as an officer in a corporate entity has any relevance, and we are unaware of any law that allows NOAA to pursue corporate officers for a vessel’s unintentional alleged violations of regulations.”
Wyrwich also argued against the amount NOAA charged, initially $61,781 and settled for $49,000.
“While St. Peter understands NOAA’s interest in deterrence,” wrote the Wyrwich, “the assessed penalty is grossly disproportionate to the alleged offense, which was indisputably not intentional, and the gross ex-vessel value bears little relationship to the ‘economic benefit’ of the actual violation.”
Violations of this sort are not atypical, though they vary in volume of the fish in question and the ensuing fines. Several vessels in the first half of 2013 were given written warnings for the same violation, and similar violations in 2015 yielded fines from $1,000 to $3,000.
NOAA bases these fines on the value of the halibut overage. The F/V Saint Peter fished and received payment for 24,600 pounds of halibut in 2012, worth $132,900 to processor that bought the fish.
Of the total, 10,500 pounds were in excess of the unharvested Area 4A quota. At an average $5.40 per pound for halibut in ex-vessel price, the total harvest value of the fineable halibut came to $56,806.
DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected].