Oregon charter captain sentenced for harvesting protected salmon

A Warrenton, Oregon, charter boat captain pleaded guilty and was sentenced earlier this month for harvesting federally protected wild coho salmon on charter trips with sport fishing clients. The year-long investigation by federal and state officers also led to state fish and wildlife charges against the captain of the Hawk II.

On September 4, 2014, Curtis Clauson, 65, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon to a federal misdemeanor offense for illegal “take” of a species listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. He was sentenced to one year of probation. During that year he must remain in compliance with conditions of his already imposed state probation, forfeit his U.S. Coast Guard license to operate a passenger vessel and may not be employed in any position requiring a captain’s license.

Clauson’s offenses came to light during an investigation into Pacific Northwest sport fishing charter operators who may be violating the Endangered Species Act or other laws.

“Fortunately most sport fishing charter operators set a good example for their clients by conscientiously complying with the laws that protect imperiled species,” said Martina Sagapolu, Acting Special Agent In Charge of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement for the West Coast Region. “That makes it especially important to identify and pursue the few exceptions to those high industry standards.”

The investigation revealed that Clauson, while acting in the capacity of a sport fishing charter captain, unlawfully harvested Coho salmon, a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. All Coho with intact adipose fins are considered wild and must be immediately released with minimum of injury. However, Clauson clubbed, filleted and concealed Coho salmon with intact fins onboard his vessel while guiding sport fishing clients. During subsequent questioning, Clauson acknowledged having done the same on a regular basis over the past several years.

The investigation further revealed that Clauson had unlawfully harvested and sold sport caught Dungeness crab and Albacore tuna.

“The charter industry works hand-in-hand with NOAA Fisheries and state agencies to develop regulations so we can have sustainable fisheries,” said Ilwaco, Wash., charter boat owner Butch Smith, president of the Ilwaco Charter Association and chair of the Salmon Advisory Subpanel of the Pacific Fishery Management Council. “It’s unacceptable to us to have anyone break these laws, especially someone from our industry.”

Clauson previously pleaded guilty in January 2014 to two class A misdemeanor state offenses in Clatsop County Circuit Court and was sentenced to:

* Suspension of his Oregon fishing license and shellfish permits for five years.

* Three years of probation, during which time he must surrender his Oregon charter and commercial fishing licenses.

* 10 days in jail.

Clauson also agreed to pay $3,000 in restitution to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, $270 in restitution to the Oregon State Police, and $510 in court fees and criminal fines.

“We are committed to ensuring that sport fishing charter operators that violate fishing regulations are held accountable and do not tarnish the image of honest operators or damage highly important cultural and economic fishery resources of the Northwest,” said NOAA Special Agent Murray Bauer, who led the investigation.

At one time Clauson worked under a seasonal contract to NOAA operating research vessels but will be barred from doing so in the future.

The investigation also led to state criminal citations against several other parties for various fishing violations.

The case was investigated jointly by the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, West Coast Enforcement Division, and the Oregon State Police Fish & Wildlife Division. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Evans of the District of Oregon, State of Oregon Senior Assistant Attorney General Patrick Flannigan, and Clatsop County Deputy District Attorney Beau Peterson.

Home page coho photograph by John McMillan