Three men face trial for illegal sea cucumber harvest

Three Southeast Alaska fishermen charged with the illegal commercial harvest of sea cucumbers in a closed area pleaded not guilty to the charges and now face trial beginning May 16 in Klawock.

Keith Wagner, 52, Jonathan McGraw Jr., 43, and Curtis Looper, 27, entered their pleas during arraignment at the Prince of Wales Courthouse in Klawock on March 14 and March 15.

Wildlife troopers responding to reports of the F/V Bottom Time fishing in a closed area located the vessel drifting near the north entrance of Whale Pass, with diving gear on deck, occupied by the three men, with the cover of a fish tote converted to a work space and covered with whole sea cucumbers and other bottom debris.

Charges against the three range from unlawful harvest and unlawful possession or transport of the sea cucumbers.

Giant red sea cucumbers belong to a group of animals called echinoderms and are the only commercially harvested sea cucumber in Alaska. The harvest is conducted by divers who deliver eviscerated but live animals to shore based processors.  The skin is then cooked or boiled and dried into a product known as trepang or beche de mer. Their frozen muscles and dried skin products are sold domestically and in Asia.