Fishermen, Feds in Bizarre Legal Fight Over Lost Buoy

They want government to pay up, and the government is suing
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 30, 2016 2:33 PM CDT
Eel Fishermen Hold Government Science Buoy for Ransom
Daniel Sherer takes possession of a US Geological Survey buoy.   (United States of America vs. Daniel Sherer, Patrick Anderson, A&S Fisheries)

Two California eel fishermen who stumbled across a US Geological Survey buoy in January are holding the piece of scientific equipment for ransom, citing the tried-and-true rule of finders-keepers, the Daily Beast reports. According to Ars Technica, the buoy was moored nearly 1,000 feet underwater off the coast of Northern California before a storm knocked it loose, which is when Daniel Sherer and Patrick Anderson of A&S Fisheries found it. "If you lose something in the ocean, it doesn't stay yours forever, it becomes salvaged," argues attorney David Sherer, who may be—in his own words—an "old trial dog" with "very little" experience in maritime law, but who is Daniel Sherer's father. “It’s his rollerskate, and he can sell it to whoever or keep it all he wants,” the 79-year-old attorney tells the Daily Beast.

The fishermen were originally seeking $45,000 for the buoy, which they value at $400,000, but have lowered their asking price to $13,000. Regardless, the government isn't playing ball. In fact, federal prosecutors filed a lawsuit last Friday not only demanding the return of the buoy but also $115,000 in damages. The government is accusing the fishermen of holding the buoy "hostage" and ruining a federal research project meant to collect data on ocean conditions during El Niño, reports Courthouse News Service. It claims the fishermen's handling of the buoy may have wrecked the buoy's data. Meanwhile, an actual maritime lawyer tells Ars Technica that maritime law doesn't operate on the principle of finders-keepers. The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard in June. (Canada is trying to use maritime law to claim the Titanic.)

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