On this week’s Alaska Fisheries Report with Terry Haines: A former fish lobbyist fights ticket for fishing over the line. A federal judge rules against shielding big pollock producers from big fines. And Fisheries professor Courtney Carothers talks about indigenous knowledge.
Thorstenson fights charges with friend’s help:
A former fisheries lobbyist stands accused of fishing over the line for the second time in two years. He continues to fight the original 2019 charges in court, and says the new ones are also flawed. As CoastAlaska’s Jacob Resneck reports, he’s getting some help and advice from a friend and former top fisheries official.
Robert Thorstenson, who goes by Bobby, was among a group of seiners cited earlier this month during a 12-hour opener in Sitka’s Silver Bay. The commercial fishermen were targeting chum released by the local hatchery in a special harvest area that he says was unfamiliar to the group.
thorstenson1 :07 It was a big, weird, safe triangle, you know, that I’ve never seen before that we’ve never fished before.
The hatchery had forecast as many as 90,000 chum salmon in the area. But fish and game biologists drew lines to keep gear away from freshwater streams where wild salmon would be headed to spawn.
thorstenson2 :09 You know, the last thing I wanted was a ticket. So I call the trooper to me and I asked him where I could legally fish and he told me where I could legally fish so I went over there and set there and then he came over and wrote me a ticket.
Neither the Alaska Department of Fish and Game nor Alaska Wildlife Troopers declined to comment on specifics citing the open court case. But the Department of Public Safety said in a statement it’s the responsibility of the permit holder and vessel captain to follow all rules and regulations.
Court documents show that law enforcement officials confiscated 5,170 pounds of chum salmon.
Until 2018, Thorstenson was one of the state’s pre-eminent lobbyists in the commercial fisheries world. He’s also a former executive director of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association and was part of the state’s delegation to help negotiate the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
The charges are similar to Thorstenson’s 2019 incident at Crawfish Inlet, also on the west side of Baranof Island. There, he was accused of fishing for hatchery-released chum too close to a freshwater salmon steam.
He says the terminal harvest areas set up to catch hatchery-released fish are purposefully separated from where wild stocks are strong.
thorstenson3 :09 if there was any wild salmon stocks that were eating meaningful enough to make a freakin sandwich out of we wouldn’t let them put a hatchery there.
He disputes that the Crawfish Inlet stream had wild fish in it.
thorstenson4a :04 It’s not an anadromous stream. It’s a mountain stream has never had a fish in it.
That point was backed up by a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game deputy commissioner who visited the area with Thorstenson about a week later.
swanton1 :09 Bobby, at that point in time was, you know, he was pretty, I guess, you could say, you know, upset about the whole thing.
That’s Charlie Swanton who had retired from the agency at the end of 2018 after nearly 40 years in state government. He says he hiked the stream as far as downed trees and boulders.
swanton2 :08 I mean, I looked around, there was not a sign of — actually to tell you the truth, I didn’t find a single fish of any species in that stream.
He’d been invited by Thorstenson to fish with him now that he was retired after decades of working on the regulatory side of things. He says while the two were standing in the unnamed stream unable to find any fish…
swanton3 :27 Bobby turns around and goes, Well, I think I just found my expert witness. And so I wasn’t looking to do it. But I mean, he’s a friend, you know, he’s somebody that was an advisor for a number of years for me with a Pacific salmon treaty. And, you know, I, although he’s, he’s a unique guy. I found it, you know, it’s like, well, I, I know a little something about this stuff, I can help you out. And so that’s how I got involved with it.
That involvement included a dozen-page affidavit he filed with the court calling into question the agency’s rationale for designating it a salmon-producing stream. While it doesn’t ask for Thorstenson’s charges to be dismissed, it recommends the court to take these factors into consideration.
Prosecutors have already downgraded the 2019 misdemeanor to a violation — basically an infraction. And half of the roughly $50,000 value of the catch seized has been returned by authorities to allow Thorstenson to apply for more grant funding.
So why is he fighting this ticket?
thorstenson5 :03 It’s just a violation — but it’s still a violation.
The first case is scheduled to go to trial in December. The second ticket likely won’t be heard until next year.
Judge allows fines against pollock companies to continue:
A federal judge has denied, for now, a request by :some of Alaska’s biggest seafood companies to block the Biden administration from levying more fines on them for allegedly breaking federal shipping law.
U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason [glee-son] issued the decision today [Tuesday]. It rejects the request by a subsidiary of Bering Sea pollock harvesting giant American Seafoods and a related company.
The seafood companies say U.S. Customs and Border Protection threatened them and other businesses in their supply chain with penalties exceeding three hundred million dollars.
The penalties were for using a miniature Canadian railway to satisfy a provision in federal law that allows goods to be shipped between American ports on foreign-flagged vessels only if their route includes Canadian rail.
Gleason, in her ruling, denied the companies’ request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.
She says they met one of the legal standards required to issue the orders by raising valid questions about whether the penalties are causing irreparable harm to the seafood companies’ business.
But she added that the businesses have not shown that they’re in compliance with the federal shipping law, nor have they pursued all of their options to appeal to Customs officials directly.
Gleason dismissed the request without prejudice, which means that the companies can resurrect it if they appeal to Customs and fail.
Indigenous knowledge the focus of fellowships at the UAF Fisheries School:
A program focused on bridging the gap between Indigenous knowledge and western science is entering its second year at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
It’s called Tamamta [tuh-MUM-tuh], a Yup’ik [YOO-pick] and Sugpiaq [SOOQ-pee-yack] word that means “all of us” or “we” and it’s part of UAF’s School of Fisheries.
Fisheries professor Courtney Carothers is the faculty member in charge.
As she told Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove, the nine Indigenous graduate students starting their fellowships this year are from all over Alaska, but they’re united by a common goal.
That was Courtney Carothers, a Fisheries professor at UAF and lead faculty with the Tamamta program, talking to Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove. For more information, including bios of the nine Tamamta fellows, check out tamamta dot org. That’s T-A-M-A-M-T-A dot O-R-G.