Feds Sue Fish­er­men For Tak­ing Buoy ‘Hostage’

Soundings - - Dispatches - By Jim Flan­nery

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.

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