Robert Thorstenson Jr. – who goes by his name Bobby – was one of a group of purse seiners cited on September 2 during a 12 hour opening in the harvest area of ââthe Silver Bay Terminal in Sitka. Commercial fishermen were targeting the chum released by the local hatchery in a special harvest area which he said was unfamiliar to the group.
“It was a big, oddly shaped triangle that I had never seen before and had never fished before, âThorstenson told CoastAlaska.
The hatchery had predicted as many as 90,000 chum salmon in the area. But state fisheries biologists drew lines to keep gear away from freshwater streams where wild salmon would head to spawn.
Aware of being accused in 2019 of fishing over the line at Crawfish Inlet, west of Baranof Island, he says he was cautious.
âThe last thing I wanted was a ticket,â said the fisherman from Juneau. âSo I called the soldier and 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 come and wrote me a note.
AWT: It’s up to skippers and license holders to understand the rules
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Wildlife Troopers declined to comment on details citing the ongoing case. But the Department of Public Safety said in a statement that it was the responsibility of the license holder and the ship’s captain to follow all rules and regulations.
Austin McDaniel, a spokesperson for the agency, wrote in an email that a wildlife soldier was patrolling the seine opening on September 2.
“As part of its patrol, the Wildlife Trooper contacted several vessels prior to opening to ensure they were aware of the limits set by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game,” McDaniels wrote. . âAfter the opening of the fishery, the wildlife ranger named four vessels to fish in waters closed to commercial seine nets. The ultimate responsibility for following Alaskan regulations, emergency orders, and laws is the duty of the license holder and the master of the vessel.
Court documents show law enforcement officials confiscated 5,170 pounds of chum salmon from the fishing vessel Vigilant of which Thorstenson was the captain. The license holder was also cited, according to the records.
A big fish in the small world of fishing in Alaska
Until 2018, Thorstenson was one of the state’s main lobbyists in the commercial fishing world. He is 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 the alleged violation of Thorstenson in 2019, also on the west side of Baranof Island. There he was charged with catching chum hatchery too close to a freshwater salmon stream.
He says terminal harvest areas put in place to catch hatchery released fish are deliberately segregated from areas where wild stocks are strong and minimize any threat to other species like pink salmon.
âIf there were stocks of wild salmon that were even big enough to make a goddamn sandwich, we wouldn’t let them set up a hatchery there,â he said.
And he disputes that Crawfish Inlet Creek – which is listed in the state’s anadromous waters catalog – contained wild fish.
“It is not an anadromous flow. It’s a mountain stream that has never had a fish in it, âhe said.
A former deputy defense commissioner of ADF & G
This point was supported by a former senior official in the Alaska Department of Fisheries and Game who visited the area with Thorstenson about a week later in September 2019.
“I looked around, there was no sign of – actually to tell you the truth – I couldn’t find any fish of any species in this creek, âformer Deputy Commissioner Charlie said. Swanton in CoastAlaska.
He explained his decision to get involved on behalf of his friend.
“Bobby, at the time, wasâ¦ I guess, you could say, overwhelmed by it all, âsaid Swanton, who retired from the agency in late 2018, after nearly 40 years at the agency.
The two realized after walking the creek that they couldn’t find any salmon in the fresh water that had been closed for 200 yards as a buffer for the return of wild stocks, Swanton said.
“Bobby turns and says, “Well, I think I just found my expert witness,” Swanton recalls. âThat’s how I got involved.
To substantiate this claim, Swanton filed a 12-page affidavit with the court questioning the agency’s rationale for continuing to list it as a salmon workflow. He says the nominations for these streams come from legacy data dating back to the 1970s that cannot be easily verified.
âIt’s pretty easy to prove to enroll it,â Swanton said in a recent interview. “But it is very difficult – or more difficult – to have it removed.”
In his affidavit, he also vouched for Thorstenson’s good character.
“It is without understanding that Mr. Thorstenson would knowingly violate a closed water limit that protects wild salmon stocks,” Swanton wrote in court.
Prosecutors have already downgraded the 2019 misdemeanor to a violation. And half of the $ 50,000 value of the 41-tonne catch seized has been returned by authorities to allow Thorstenson to seek more subsidies.
Thorstenson says he’s still determined to clear his name rather than accept the fine.
“IIt’s just a violation – but it’s still a violation, âhe said. âIsn’t that a bad thing? “
The 2019 case is expected to be tried in December. The second charges are unlikely to be heard in court until 2022.