Fishermen Stumble Upon Lost Gov’t Buoy, Demand Ransom For Its Return

(REUTERS/Dennis Jay Santos)

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Two commercial fishermen picked up a government science buoy in January, 2016, and are now trying to strong arm the government into buying back the buoy, according to a lawsuit filed in California.

The fishermen — David Sherer, his son, Daniel, and his colleague, Patrick Anderson — maintain they picked up the wayward buoy which had become detached from its moorings during a storm.

Sherer and his crew became the rightful owners after taking possession of government property — in effect, they used the “finders keepers, losers weepers” argument under maritime law to justify their actions.

They are asking for $13,000 for the buoy.

“If you lose something in the ocean, it doesn’t stay yours forever, it becomes salvaged,” David Sherer told reporters. “It’s not government property anymore, it’s the finder’s property.”

The demand for compensation — or a ransom — did not sit well with government officials.

The government filed a lawsuit March 25 against the fishermen and their company, A&S Fisheries, mandating the court force the men to give back the buoy and pay a $115,000 fine.

The buoy, according to the federal government, was placed at 300 meters below the ocean’s surface 100 yards off the coast of San Francisco.

The floating device, called Scientific Mooring MS1, was perched at its post October, 2015, and was supposed to gather sea temperature data during the current El Niño.

The device was detached from its post Jan. 15, and picked up Jan.17 by the fishermen and taken back to Moss Landing Harbor, a San Francisco harbor. Sherer would go on to tell the United States Coast Guard he would sell the buoy back to them.

While Sherer admits he does not have much experience with maritime law, one attorney suggests the fishermen should consider forking over the buoy sans compensation.

“In the maritime world, by finding property that belongs to someone else, you do not obtain title to it or the right to possession of it unless it has been abandoned,” Marilyn Raia, a maritime lawyer in San Francisco, told reporters.

“The offshore distance is irrelevant. If asked, I would not accept the defense of these fishermen in the pending action,” she added. “This wasn’t abandoned so it’s a moot point really. Abandonment involves an intentional relinquishment of rights to property. You can’t negligently abandon something.”

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Chris White