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Zen fined $18,000 for halibut violations

Posted: March 19, 2012 - 10:05pm  |  Updated: March 20, 2012 - 1:36pm
Two people are seen walking on the sidewalk in front of Zen Restaurant on Monday. The owners of Zen will pay a civil penalty of $18,000 over the next 12 months for illegally purchasing subsistence-harvested Pacific halibut in 2010.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Two people are seen walking on the sidewalk in front of Zen Restaurant on Monday. The owners of Zen will pay a civil penalty of $18,000 over the next 12 months for illegally purchasing subsistence-harvested Pacific halibut in 2010.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration undercover investigation led to the fining of local Asian cuisine restaurant owners $18,000 for illegally purchasing subsistence-caught Pacific halibut.

Cai Hu and Yao Hu, owners and managers of Zen Restaurant and Jaded Bar, will pay the fine over a year, according to a NOAA release.

Cai and Yao are equal partners in Yang Sing LLC, doing business as Zen and Jaded. They incorporated Yang Sing in 2008. It is currently in good standing with the state of Alaska.

The restaurant owners admitted they purchased the halibut that had been harvested under a subsistence fishing permit in Feb and March 2010.

“The fish were purchased at least in part to be served to restaurant patrons,” according to NOAA’s release.

The Northern Pacific Halibut Act prohibits the “sale, offer for sale, trade or barter of subsistence-harvested halibut.”

The national halibut laws are in place “to protect the commercial fishery and also those fish dealers that are operating legitimately,” NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service spokeswoman Julie Speegle stated in an email interview. “A proliferation of illegally harvested fish sold at less than market price could have repercussions throughout the commercial fishing industry, driving down prices of fish and devaluing individual fishing quotas. There is also concern about protecting halibut stocks.”

The NPHA allows for a maximum civil penalty of $200,000 for each violation. However, the amount of fish Hu purchased was relatively small, Speegle said.

“So the fine was commensurate with the amount of fish,” Speegle said.

Yao Hu said he and Cai have no comment at this time.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement’s Alaska Division, with warrants, found the halibut at Hu residence and Zen Restaurant. Agents seized the halibut.

“The subsistence halibut fishery is critically important to the traditions and survival of rural Alaskan coastal communities,” said Special Agent in Charge Sherrie Tinsley Myers of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement Alaska Division. “The federal laws that govern all halibut fisheries were specifically crafted to ensure that the subsistence halibut fishery does not compete or interfere with the commercial halibut fishery. It is precisely this principle that was violated in this case.”

Other subsistence fishing violations can cost perpetrators from $200 to $5,000 in fines. The fine for having subsistence halibut on a vessel with commercial or sport caught halibut onboard can reach $5,000 and the seizure of all halibut. Using more than 60 hooks on subsistence gear can cost a fisher the same, but no halibut seizure.

To report a suspected violation, contact Enforcement’s national hotline at 800-853-1964.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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