Icicle Seafoods Inc. could be one step closer to having to write a very big check as a penalty for some illegal king crab processing a few years ago.
But the dollar figure might not be as hefty as government authorities want.
That's the upshot of this recent 32-page determination and order signed by Jane Lubchenco, the Obama administration's newly installed head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Icicle has been fighting a $3.4 million civil penalty NOAA Fisheries imposed against the Seattle-based processor in late 2004.
Investigators charged that Icicle, through another company involved in seafood processing on faraway Adak Island in the Aleutians, exceeded its crab processing limit under the American Fisheries Act of 1998.
The central question is whether Icicle controlled Adak Fisheries Development Co. and used it to process millions of pounds of king crab over Icicle's limit. The company belonged to Kjetil Solberg, a former Icicle business partner.
Government authorities argue that Icicle did, in fact, control Adak Fisheries Development Co., and that it made substantial profits on the unlawful crab processing.
Icicle argues that, no, it didn't control Solberg's company, and it puts up a bunch of other reasons why it shouldn't have to pay any $3.4 million fine.
An administrative law judge upheld the fine in March 2007.
Icicle appealed that decision to a higher authority, which is where Lubchenco comes in.
She rules against Icicle on most points.
But she also kicks part of the case back to the judge for "clarification," and asks him to reconsider the fine amount.
In addition, she writes on page 31 of her ruling that she doesn't agree with the judge that Icicle and its Adak associates "engaged in an improper scheme to evade the law."
No telling, I guess, when this thing will be sorted out, or how big a check Icicle will have to write in the end.
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