United Fishermen Accuse Sportfishing Group of Espionage

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Jay Barrett/KMXT
Allegations of espionage have been leveled by Alaska’s largest commercial fishing trade organization against the state’s most powerful sports-fishing group. The United Fishermen of Alaska and the Kenai River Sportfishing Association have long been at opposite ends of salmon allocation issues, and now UFA is accusing KRSA of illegally listening in to a private, members-only, teleconference earlier this year. KMXT’s Jay Barrett has more.

The United Fishermen of Alaska is accusing the Kenai River Sportfishing Association of surreptitiously eavesdropped on the January 17th UFA board meeting, and then revealing parts of the private conversation to the chairman of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. UFA President Bruce Wallace said he confronted KRSA board chairman Eldon Mulder with evidence of the eavesdropping:
— (Wallace 1A 38 sec “We had one direct face-to-face with Eldon Mulder and we showed him at that time the trace information that firmly shows the call, the eavesdropping call, originated from the offices of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. At that point, Eldon said that he didn’t have anybody in his office that acknowledged doing that so he didn’t have anything more he could say or do about it at that point.”)
Mulder dismissed the allegations, and said that KRSA’s phone number could even have been spoofed.
— (Mulder 1 19 sec “These days with all the activity and sophistication of individuals out there, certainly people are capable, and entities are able to misrepresent whatever phone number is coming in. So, at this point in time, we don’t feel there’s validation to it.”)
Wallace said the United Fishermen of Alaska has turned over the teleconference logs and other evidence to the authorities. He said if true, it could be a very serious intrusion.
— (Wallace 3 37 sec “I think it has the real potential to be a very big deal. Whether it is or it is not I think only time and an evidentiary process will sort of lay out clearly the bounds of it, the intentions and hopefully some of the actually perpetration by both process and by person. And depending on how that comes out it could be a very big deal. I think it’s presumptive to say it is a big deal, but I think it’s reasonable to say that I think it has potential to be a very big deal.”)
Mulder disagrees:
— (Mulder 2 32 sec “I’m not certain at this point in time that the Department of Law has a whole lot of time to go and try and chase down eavesdropping, unless they’re going to start making j-walking the death penalty too, or something. I mean it’s unfortunate; I don’t know what happened or why they feel it happened, but nonetheless we don’t feel it’s very serious. It’s just probably not the right thing to do, and we certainly don’t support or condone it, but don’t see it needing to be elevated anything beyond what it is right now.”)
Wallace said that at least part of the teleconference that was leaked to Board of Fisheries Chairman Karl Johnstone concerned discussion over what qualities the UFA would like to see in a new Board appointee.
— (Wallace 2 26 sec “I think most concerning to us was the fact that you want to be able to have a free-flowing conversation. The irony of that was in this case it was, by most fishermen standards, a very tame phone call. So we were a little surprised that the supposed, you know, the content being upsetting to the chair.”)
Mulder said Cook Inlet salmon allocations have long strained the relationship between sportsfishing and commercial fishing, and the eavesdropping allegations would likely add fuel to the fire.
— (Mulder 3 29 sec “It’s a contentious issue. Fish are contentious issues because it’s a fully-allocated fishery. Tensions run high because people view one more fish you get is one less fish that I get. I certainly understand that. So the relationship at times has been strained. And it’s unfortunate, you know, that the UFA folks have seen fit to proceed this way. I’m positive this will not do anything to help improve that relationship at all.”)
Wallace said the UFA is in a holding pattern now until it’s known whether the State Department of Law will pick up the case. In the meantime, he’s concerned that the good will between commercial fishing groups and the Alaska Board of Fisheries might be strained over the eavesdropping allegations in upcoming allocation meetings. I’m Jay Barrett ###

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