AK: Man pleads guilty for illegal otter hunting
November 20, 2009
Man pleads guilty for illegal otter hunting
It's hard to hunt sea otters without a boat. That's the issue that first
put Douglas Smith at odds with the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
On Tuesday Douglas Smith pleaded guilty in federal court to charges
related to the illegal hunting and sale of sea otters. As part of his plea
deal, a third count of illegal sale of wildlife was dismissed. According to
the indictment, the count that was dismissed stemmed from Smith's sale of a
Steller sea lion hide for $2,600.
Smith's attorney, Louis Menendez, declined to comment.
"Mr. Smith's role in this was providing a boat for the illegal take,
getting a cut from the illegal take, and then selling hides illegally on his
own for profit," said Steven Skrocki, one of the assistant U.S. attorneys
who prosecuted the case.
Smith is the second Craig resident this year to stand accused of illegal
marine mammal hunting.
According to the U.S. District Court indictment, in July 2007 a man asked
Smith to borrow his fiberglass boat so he and an Alaska Native companion
could hunt sea otters. Smith agreed, with the caveat that the man pay for
the gas burned during any sea otter hunting trips.
Both Smith and the boat borrower, referred to in the indictment as
"co-conspirator A," are residents of Craig, and neither of them are Alaska
Native. The Marine Mammal Protection Act outlaws hunting for marine mammals
unless the hunter is Alaska Native.
Later in 2007, the indictment alleges, Smith agreed to allow
co-conspirator A to use Smith's boat for hunting and skinning sea otters.
The two men also agreed that co-conspirator A would take along an Alaska
Native when he hunted, to give the appearance of a legal hunt, and that
Smith would get 10 percent of any of the profits made when co-conspirator A
sold the pelts.
The government says that in July 2007 Smith e-mailed a taxidermist in
Idaho and offered up the sea otter pelts for sale, assuring the taxidermist
that the sale of sea otters was legal. Later that summer Smith e-mailed the
taxidermist and told him that he had been selling sea otter hides for $1,000
In November 2007, co-conspirator A, in the company of an Alaska Native,
killed two sea otters. A few weeks later Smith offered to sell two sea otter
hides to an undercover agent for $750 each. Co-conspirator A allegedly paid
Smith $200 for the use of his boat and owed Smith an additional $200 for
This is the second recent case out of Craig related to illegally killing
sea otters. In March, Craig resident Christopher Rowland was sentenced to 37
months in prison for four counts of violating the Lacey Act and the Marine
Mammal Protection Act. It appears that Rowland may be the person referred to
as Co-conspirator A in the Smith indictment.
In the course of an investigation into Rowland, the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service documented that he killed about 75 sea otters, including
two spring born pups, which Rowland referred to as "micro-babies," according
to a Department of Justice press release.
Rowland told undercover officers that he was just getting started and
that he had plans to market 40 to 50 hides per month to a broker in Korea.
He also killed sea lions and harbor seals and studied population
distribution studies of sea otter populations in order to maximize the
efficiency of his hunting trips.
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