A U.S. District Court judge today [Friday] sentenced commercial fisherman James Aaron Stevens of Kodiak to six months in federal prison and a $1 million fine for falsely labeling fish in violation of the Lacey Act.
Stevens pleaded guilty to the charges in November 2020 after an investigation by NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement.
Stevens owned and operated the F/V Alaskan Star and F/V Southern Seas. He admitted in a plea agreement that he lied on Individual Fishing Quota landing reports and log books about where he harvested over 900,000 pounds of halibut and sablefish between 2014 and 2017. Stevens sold the falsely labeled fish, which had a market value of over $13 million, violating the Lacey Act.
The Lacey Act, passed in 1990, is a federal law that makes it illegal to sell fish that were harvested in violation of U.S. law.
Stevens’ attorney had asked for a sentence of a year of home confinement, to be served intermittently, so Stevens could still participate in commercial fishing openers, but that was denied.
Many family members, friends, and fellow fishermen wrote letters in support of Stevens, pointing to his role as a father and husband with a strong and honest work ethic. Some letters asked for the fine to be reduced. A letter written by Janiese Stevens, James’s wife, pointed to instability and inequities in the halibut and sablefish IFQ program that put economic strains on fishermen.
As part of his sentencing, Stevens must also create a public service announcement acknowledging his crime and serve 80 hours of community service.