Federal Regulators Crack Down on Fish Fraud

The Bering Sea’s large catcher-processors weigh their harvest as it heads to the processing line on what’s known as a flow-scale – a section of conveyor belt that takes dozens of measurements per second. When properly calibrated, flow-scales give fisheries managers a very accurate estimate of the amount of fish being harvested. But like all scales, they can be manipulated.

“I’m hesitant to lay out exactly how one could tamper with a scale.”

That’s Alan Kinsolving. He’s in charge of at-sea measurement for the National Marine Fisheries Service, and helped draft the new regulations. As he explained to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at its meeting this month, there are lots of ways that his office works to keep boats honest – they only approve a limited number of scale models, do thorough inspections of the scales annually, and make sure they’re calibrated daily against a known weight.

“Unfortunately, none of this inherently prevents vessel owners or vessel crew from fraudulently misusing scale equipment on the boat,” Kinsolving says.

He told the Council that one of the biggest loopholes in the current regulations is a provision that allows scales to be off by as much as three percent without penalty.

“I take a look at those results on the boats each year when I’m out on them, and in most cases, for most boats, the majority really do try to keep those numbers as close to zero as possible,” Kinsolving says. “However, the truth is that you do have some that seem to believe that three percent is a goal, rather than a max.”

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