Southeast Alaska fisherman pleads guilty to illegally harvesting $35,000 worth of sea cucumbers

Sea cucumber. (Creative Commons photo by Mary Harrsch)

A Southeast Alaska commercial fisherman has been convicted for his role in illegally harvesting nearly 7,500 pounds of sea cucumbers near Prince of Wales Island.

Jonathan McGraw Jr., of Naukati Bay, pleaded guilty to fishing in closed waters and providing false information on a harvest report. Both are misdemeanors.

In 2018, McGraw and two others were charged with illegally fishing in a scientific preserve near Whale Pass. That area has been closed to fishing since the 1980s.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Justin Breese wrote in an email that there would definitely be an impact from the illegal harvest. The scientific preserve is designed to give managers some idea of what natural mortality rates among sea cucumber populations look like when they’re not being harvested in a commercial fishery.

“Therefore there would definitely be some impact due to the illegal harvest since it is an extra source of sea cucumber mortality that would then be applied across the entire fishery,” Breese wrote.

Still, the sea cucumber population in Southeast Alaska is doing well, so “teasing out the impact of 4 tons of illegal harvest out of other factors is a difficult problem,” he said.

Charges for the three men came after other divers told Alaska Wildlife Troopers that the men were bringing in large loads of sea cucumbers, but no one was seeing McGraw’s boat — the FV Bottom Time — in the usual fishing areas, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

McGraw was sentenced to a month in jail and fined more than $35,000, the approximate value of the stolen sea cucumbers. He didn’t respond to an attempt to reach him via social media.

He will also lose his commercial fishing privileges and will be on probation for one year.

One of the other two men who were charged, Curtis Looper, was convicted in late 2018 of fishing in closed waters.

Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk , she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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