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Outer Banks swordfish fisherman charged by NOAA

An Outer Banks swordfish fisherman has been charged by NOAA with multiple fisheries violations over a two-year period.

Chris "Chomps" Hanson, captain of the fishing vessel Big Eye, and Stanmar Inc., the owner of the fishing vessel Big Eye, have been assessed a $57,500 civil penalty by the NOAA Office of the General Counsel, Enforcement Section for failing to carry observers on fishing trips, failing to report logbook data, falsely submitting a "No Fishing Reporting Form" during a period of time when Hanson fished and landed catch, unlawfully fishing with an expired Coast Guard safety decal during a time period when Hanson and Stanmar Inc. were requested by NOAA Fisheries to carry an observer, and violating special observer and research participation requirements in the Cape Hatteras Special Research Area.

The alleged violations occurred in 2010 and 2011. The Notice of Violation and Assessment was issued January 25. Fines assessed for the violations are in accordance with NOAA's new penalty policy, which allows consistency in charging.

Swordfish is an Atlantic Highly Migratory Species, and commercial fishermen must hold a federal permit in order to commercially harvest and sell the species. Fishermen who are notified in writing by NOAA Fisheries that their vessel is selected must inform NOAA Fisheries prior to each fishing trip taken during a predetermined period of time. If a trip is selected for observer coverage, a NOAA Fisheries observer must be on board for that vessel to go fishing.

NOAA Fisheries observers collect biological information on all HMS species and other fish species caught in the commercial swordfish fishery, noting information recorded on logbooks such as gear used, fishing location, and the number of fish caught and discarded, as well as information not reported on logbooks, such as species, sex and size of the fish. This information is used in stock assessments and to help NOAA Fisheries verify logbook information.

"The Southeast Fisheries Science Center contacted him and contacted him," said NOAA Special Agent Joe Wilson, who investigated the alleged violations for NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement. "When fishermen fail to comply with regulations that require an observer on board, they deny NOAA Fisheries the data our scientists depend on to ensure the fishery stays sustainable."

Fishermen with commercial swordfish permits also must report fishing activities in an approved logbook within 48 hours of each day's fishing activities - or before offloading for one-day trips, whichever is sooner - and submit the logbook within seven days of offloading. Some of Hanson's logbooks were turned in up to one year after his trips, NOAA alleges.

Hanson also is charged with not complying with special observer and research participation requirements in the Cape Hatteras Special Research Area. The requirements are part of a take reduction plan enacted to reduce serious injury and mortality of long-finned and short-finned pilot whales and Risso's dolphins in the U.S. East Coast Atlantic pelagic longline fishery.

"NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement and the Office of the General Counsel , Enforcement Section are integral to the success of NOAA's mission of protecting and conserving marine resources and their habitats," said Bruce Buckson, director of Office of Law Enforcement. "Most commercial and recreational fishermen follow the rules, but enforcement actions against those who break the rules support sustainable fisheries, protect species and make sure we have effective data for decision making."

Notices of Violation and Assessment (NOVAs) are typically issued to both the owners and operators of vessels. Hanson and Stanmar Inc., owner of the Big Eye, have 30 days to respond either by paying the penalty, seeking to have it modified or requesting a hearing.

NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement and the General Counsel, Enforcement Section protect marine wildlife and habitat by enforcing domestic laws and international treaty requirements designed to ensure these global resources are available for future generations. To report a suspected violation, contact Enforcement's national hotline at 1-800-853-1964.