Prosecutors Drop Buoy-Napping Case

     SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) — Cooler heads have prevailed, and the feds earlier this week dropped their lawsuit against two fisherman who seized a piece of scientific equipment operated by the United States Geological Survey.
     A source close to the situation told Courthouse News that the “oceanographic mooring buoy,” known as Scientific Mooring MS, was returned to the United States Geological Survey.
     The buoy had previously been in the possession of two Moss Landing, California-based fishermen. Daneil Sherer and Patrick Anderson, who run A&S Fisheries, found the piece of equipment in January and demanded $45,000 to return of the equipment.
     The feds sued the fisherman in late March, accusing them of holding government property “de facto hostage” and causing irreparable harm to an international research project.
     However, Sherer has publicly claimed the mooring buoy emerged from the ocean after a series of January storms loosened it from the ocean floor. He said the buoy became tangled in his boat’s propellers, causing significant damage.
     The fisherman seized the buoy in order to secure compensation for the damage to their equipment, Sherer said. Sherer did not return a phone call requesting comment for this story.
     The mooring buoy was one of several anchored to the seafloor to record data on the velocity, temperature, salinity and sediment concentration of ocean currents.
     The project — an international collaboration between the U.S. Geological Survey, Monterey Bay Aquarium and universities in China and the United Kingdom — will provide an “unprecedented dataset,” the government says.
     The monitors were to capture data during the recent El Nino from October 2015 to April 2016, but researchers believe the missing monitor detached from the ocean floor during a storm on Jan. 15. It had been anchored about 300 meters deep, while other monitors were set 500 meters and 800 meters deep.
     Two days after the storm, a homing beacon sent a message to USGS researchers, indicating the buoy was off the coast of Moss Landing Harbor.
     On Jan. 19, Sherer informed the government he had “taken possession” of the equipment, and it was hauled away in a white pickup truck the next day, according to the lawsuit.
     The government sent Sherer and Anderson a letter demanding the immediate return of the equipment on Feb. 19.
     Sherer’s attorney responded on Feb. 23 with a letter stating: “Daniel and A&S are the OWNERS of the equipment and that does not change no matter how many times you are ordered to say otherwise.”
     Sherer’s response letter said the government failed to cite “any legal authority contrary to the international laws of obstruction to navigation and salvage.”
     Sherer estimated the value of the equipment at $400,000 but said he would cut the government a deal and sell it for less than 20 percent of that: $45,000.
     He also claimed his business lost nine days of income, or $24,300, from “taking the big and gouging thing onto the boat” and keeping the boat out of action as the equipment was transported to shore.
     But the United States said the fishermen had no right to claim possession of government property and that their holding the equipment had caused loss of critical data and irreversible harm to the research project.
     Ultimately, both parties agreed to walk away from the case, and the mooring buoy is back in the possession of the USGS. It is unclear whether Sherer was compensated for the damage to his boat.
     An email sent to Bob Rosenbauer, center director for the USGS’s Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center was not returned by press time.
     The stipulated dismissal, which prevents both parties from seeking further action relating to the incident, was signed by Mike Underhill, an attorney with the Justice Department.

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