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Craig man pleads guilty to poaching sea otters

Posted: Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Craig man faces three years in prison after illegally hunting and selling sea otter hides and skulls to undercover agents.

The investigation that nabbed Christopher Rowland, 41, took two years, involved communities throughout Southeast Alaska, and isn't over yet, according to special assistant U.S. attorney John Reardon.

Rowland's plea agreement mentions four other people who were involved. No one else was named.

The investigation started with a tip and includes the illegal selling of sea otters, seals and sea lions. Search warrants were served in Craig, Ketchikan and Sitka. Agents interviewed people there and in Edna Bay, Hoonah and Seattle.

Rowland pleaded guilty on Monday in federal court in Anchorage to four counts of illegally hunting, transporting and selling sea otters, court documents show.

Rowland agreed to a recommendation of 37 months in prison, three years of supervised release and a $5,000 fine. Sentencing is set for March 9.

Rowland had supplied a person identified in court documents as Individual A with marijuana, and was invited on board that person's boat in Craig, according to the plea agreement. On a 10-day hunt between January and March 2007, he and Individual A, an Alaska Native, shot and took 56 sea otters, the document says.

Only Alaska Natives can hunt sea otters, and Rowland is not Native. It is illegal to sell their parts unless they have been transformed by an Alaska Native into a native handicraft, which these hadn't been.

Later that summer he killed five sea otters on a hunt with someone else, the plea agreement says. They had agreed to split the proceeds equally.

That year, Rowland also sold otter parts to undercover agents. Once he and another person sold an otter hide to an agent at a Craig trailer for $400. In two other sales he sent otter hides and skulls via the U.S. Postal Service to a covert U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service address in Minnesota.

The whole tanned sea otter pelts were sold for $1,000, and raw pelts were sold for $100 a foot, said prosecutors.

Rowland could not be located for comment.

State wildlife troopers, federal fisheries law enforcement agents, the U.S. Forest Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Alaska Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Enforcement, and the state attorney general's office contributed to the case, according to the U.S. attorneys.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.



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