Brookings crabbers receive fines

May 10, 2007 11:00 pm

By Valliant Corley

Triplicate staff writer

GOLD BEACH, Ore. – The skipper of a crabbing boat owned by a Port of Brookings Harbor commissioner has been fined $6,500 in Curry County Circuit Court for violating new Oregon regulations designed to limit the number of crab pots vessels can fish.

Roger Allen Semenak, 54, of Brookings, pleaded guilty Monday to 13 counts of unlawful use of commercial crab pots. The boat is owned by Harbor Commissioner Lloyd Whaley.

Under an early disposition offer by Assistant District Attorney Travis Elder, 14 other counts were dismissed.

"It's an important issue," Elder said. "We want to make sure it's enforced and people realize we'll take it seriously.

"The fines were light this time, but it is a serious regulation and it will be enforced."

Semenak was cited with having no state-mandated buoy tags on 27 crab pots. The combined amount of the citations as issued was $168,750 – the largest local amount according to Oregon State Police.

So far, three Curry County-based crab fishermen have been fined in circuit court.

Also Monday, Debbie Yoonja Spencer, 41, of Brookings was convicted of five counts. She was fined $300 for each count and forfeiture of her crab pots.

On April 16, Pete Sean McHenry, 51, of Brookings was convicted of five counts of failure to attach crab pot tags and fined $1,000.

McHenry, who brought a buoy to court to demonstrate how they were to be tagged, said he favored the new law and had pushed to have it implemented.

The fine paid by Semenak and McHenry was higher than Spencer's because they did not have their crab gear seized, Elder said. He estimated each crab pot was valued at $200.

"This time we treated them as violations," Elder said. "That takes out the possibility of jail time, and the court is less likely to suspend fishing licenses. We hope the message is sent so people will put the tags on."

The required tags are placed on the buoy marking the site of the crab pot in the ocean. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife department issues those tags to identify the vessel doing the fishing.

"The whole reason this came to be was to make it an even playing field between the small and the large boats," Elder said.

Whaley, who is running for re-election, said he had done nothing wrong and suspected foul play. He said the pots were placed in California waters, which doesn't require buoy tags. But authorities found the 27 pots in Oregon waters, he said.

"The only way we can figure how they got into Oregon is they were moved," he said. "Somebody had to pick it up and move it."

The Oregon State Police responded to complaints in late December about pots belonging to the B J Thomas, the boat skippered by Semenak, according to a report featured in agency's February newsletter.

Whaley, who fishes in both Oregon and California for crab, said the new limits make crabbers an easy target.

"If someone doesn't like you, all they have to do is cut the (tags) off and call the police," he said. "The (rules) are going to have to be drawn up as something other than what they've got."

Whaley estimated an hour would be needed to move 30 pots.

Starting this season, which began in December 2006 and is still underway, Oregon implemented a series of permanent pot limits: 200, 300 or 500 pots depending on how much crab a boat caught during the six seasons between 1995 and 2001.

Archie Jorgensen, the owner of the Betty Jo, another Port of Brookings Harbor vessel cited for having no tags, said he supported the limits even though his boat was cited.

"It's a good thing," he said. "Three tags didn't get put on, and we were totally in the wrong. But I think it's a good way of patrolling it.

"I think they're right on with what they've got going."

According to Oregon Fish and Wildlife records, 35 fishermen from the Brookings-Harbor area received a crab permit.