Writer Wants Documents on Fishy Official

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A fisherman with a long history of environmental work says there’s something fishy about the Department of Commerce’s denial of his FOIA requests about a former fisheries official who went to jail.
     Alan Stein sued the Department of Commerce in Federal Court on July 30 under the Freedom of Information Act and the Administrative Procedures Act. He claims that the Commerce Department and two of its agencies – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its Office of the Inspector General – stonewalled his requests about an investigation that sent a former fisheries official to jail.
     Stein says he testified to both houses in Congress in 1976, as “the leading voice in Alaska for buffer strips along salmon streams” to be included in the National Forest Management Act.
     He also claims to be “the main force behind Zieske v Butz, 406 F.Supp. 258 (D. Alaska 1975) and Stein v Barton, 740 F. Supp. 743 (D. Alaska, 1990).”
     Both involved timber harvests in Alaska and their effects on streams.
     In his latest lawsuit, the former Alaska homesteader who now lives in Northern California says: “Prompt access to the requested information is crucial to the plaintiff because it is directly relevant to his ability to effectively engage in, and provide oversight of, NOAA’s investigation and eventual prosecution of a United States Senate aide who played a large role in moving federal fishery management from purely conservation toward privatization of the resource which has in some areas of the country (and would have in others) sharply reduced the number of fishing vessels and canneries.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
     Alan Stein told Courthouse News that the aide in question, Arne Fuglvog, served on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC), which oversees assignment of fishing quotas in Alaska, from 2003 to 2006, and on an advisory council to the NPFMC before that. Then he went to work as an aide for Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Stein said.
     Neither Fuglvog nor Murkowski are parties to the lawsuit.
     Fuglvog owned and operated a fishing vessel, the Kamilar, and pleaded guilty to making false statements in his own fishing quota reports, the Department of Justice said in an August 2011 statement.
     “On several occasions between 2001 and 2006, Fuglvog fished in one regulatory area and then falsely reported that the fish were caught in a different area,” U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said in the statement.
     Fuglvog was sentenced to 10 months in prison, fined $50,000, plus a $10,000 community service payment, the Department of Justice said.
     Stein told Courthouse News that members of Fuglvog’s crew reported his illegal fishing to NOAA as early as 2007, but that NOAA did not move until 2009, after someone reported it to the FBI and the Office of the Inspector General.
     Stein says he wants to know why. He said material from several cases has been shredded and he wants to know if any of them involved Fuglvog.
     Since October 2012 he’s submitted 12 FOIA requests for documents in the Fuglvog investigation. Each time, NOAA or OIG missed its 20-day statutory deadline to respond, claimed the documents were exempt from disclosure, or heavily redacted them, Stein claims.
     He says he needs the documents for a book he is writing.
     “I cannot write a chapter on Fuglvog’s role in shaping fish policy in Alaska until I get all the documents requested in the FOIAs,” Stein said.
     He says the documents he wants are no longer exempt from FOIA.
     “Mr. Stein has been very patient,” Stein’s attorney David Bahr told Courthouse News, noting that NOAA’s investigation of Fuglvog has long been completed.
     “He could have filed suit on the twenty-first day. But after three years, it was time to fish or cut bait,” Bahr said.
     “The sad thing is that this is not atypical. This is part of dealing with government agencies regarding FOIA requests.
     “If FOIA’s going to mean anything, agencies have to be held to account,” Bahr said.
     The Department of Commerce did not respond to request for comment Friday.
     Stein wants to see the record.

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