By Steve Guntli
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicted two Blaine fishermen for allegedly dumping harmful waste into Blaine Harbor and the Pacific Ocean.
According to the charges, Bingham and Randall Fox, a father-and-son team who work the commercial fishing vessel Native Sun, ordered their crew to dump oil and bilge into Blaine waters and in the open ocean. The DOJ alleges the Foxes dumped material consistently between 2011 and 2013.
The men have been indicted on charges of conspiracy and violations of the Clean Water Act and the Act to Prevent Pollution From Ships.
Prosecutors say Bingham Fox ordered his crew to dump materials during dockside maintenance in Blaine Harbor, while Randall, who was a crew member under Bingham and later the captain, ordered the open ocean dumping during longer voyages. The vessel does not have a Clean Water Act permit to dump waste, nor does it have legally mandated oil-water separation equipment on board, according to the DOJ.
Bingham Fox claims he is innocent of the charges.
“I would never do something like this. I wouldn’t stand for it,” Fox said. “The ocean is my living. Why would I want to ruin that?”
Fox said the Department of Ecology (DOE) raided the boat in early 2013. The department pushed him to plead guilty to a felony charge to prevent the case from going to trial, but Fox refused. The case has been pending ever since, but Fox didn’t hear anything new until April 7, when the department handed down the indictment.
Fox obtained a statement from Walsh Marine, claiming the management never saw oil in the water during the 10 months the Native Sun was moored there for repairs. He also claims that, while he did not have the proper oil-water separation device on board, the DOE had issued a moratorium on the device for fishing vessels through 2014.
The men are slated to appear in Seattle Federal Court on April 14.
“It’ll probably be another two years before this goes to trial,” Fox said. “This has already been hanging over my head for all these years, and now it’s going to continue.”
The maximum penalty for violating the Clean Water Act is up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships is up to six years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each violation.
“It’s just an indictment, but unfortunately for most people, you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Fox said. “They’re painting me dirty because of this, and it’s not right.”