Feds Sue Fishermen For Taking Buoy ‘Hostage’
Is it finders keepers or a kind of hostagetaking when a fisherman “rescues” an oceanographic buoy that was adrift and won’t return it to the U. S. Geological Survey until the government agency pays him for his trouble?
Daniel Sherer, 39, who owns the 30- foot commercial fishboat Irish with partner Patrick Anderson, was trapping Pacific hagfish in January — hagfish resemble eels and are prized in South Korea for the dinner table — when he came across the approximately 4-foot-diameter buoy floating five miles off Monterey, California, says David Sherer, a semiretired lawyer and his son Daniel’s original legal counsel in the case.
Daniel Sherer turned his boat around to get a closer look, fouled his running gear in the buoy’s mooring cables and hauled the scientific gear aboard, his father says. Sherer says his son didn’t know exactly what he had. For all he knew it could have been a submarine detection buoy. “You think they’re going to tell us that’s what it is?” Sherer asks. “No.” Whatever it was, it was a hazard to navigation, as the lawyer’s son discovered when his boat became snarled in the cable.
The fisherman slowly motored to Moss Landing Harbor — a major commercial fishing port on Monterey Bay — so as not to damage Irish. He called the telephone number stenciled on the side of the buoy and left a message saying that he’d found the scientific gear, taken possession of it and it was on his boat in Moss Landing Harbor.
He told the agency it would have to pay for the buoy’s return. That demand amounted to “holding the equipment as a de facto hostage,” Department of Interior assistant field solicitor Karen D. Glasgow said in response to a letter from lawyer Sherer that offered to sell the buoy back to the USGS for $45,000 — a little more than 10 percent of the $400,000 he estimated it to be worth.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, in a brief filed March 31 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco against the boat’s two owners and their company, A&S Fishing, said the buoy — Scientific Mooring MS1 — had been anchored to the bottom at Monterey Canyon at a depth of about 300 meters. It was part of a sevenbuoy array tethered at various depths to measure turbidity currents — their velocity and sediment concentrations — from October 2015 to April 2016.
The government complaint says that on or about Jan. 15 the buoy broke loose from its mooring in a storm and floated to the surface. Two days later its homing beacon alerted the USGS that the buoy was in Moss Landing Harbor. Two days after that Daniel Sherer notified the USGS that the
Daniel Sherer is shown with the oceanographic buoy in Moss Landing Harbor.