It was the fish ticket that got away.
Charged with failure to submit fish tickets to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game in a timely fashion, the president of Alaska Glacier Seafoods Inc. says he doesn’t know how one of the “tens of thousands” of tickets he submits annually fell through the cracks.
“I’m not quite sure how this one got away from us, really,” Michael Erickson, the president of the family-owned seafood processor and distributor based in Juneau, said in a phone interview.
“When you’re dealing with that many tickets, it’s pretty hard not to have a late ticket now and then,” Erickson added, though emphasizing his company has never been ticketed for this before, so far as he knows.
Erickson, 58, as the president and registered agent of the company, was ticketed by the Alaska Wildlife Troopers in Juneau on Sept. 30, 2011, for failure to submit fish tickets to the department within seven days after delivery.
That’s a non-criminal, strict liability violation usually punishable by a fine.
State statute requires commercial fisheries and processors to record each landing, complete with the name of the buyer, the name of the permit holder and the name of the vessel employed in taking the fish.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Peterson of the Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals then filed the same charges against the company itself last month.
Peterson, who specializes in prosecuting fish and game cases, says the tickets are a vital resource management tool ADF&G needs to calculate quotas and harvesting numbers. The tickets provide information necessary to determine whether to shorten a fishing season, or to call for an emergency opener or closure, Peterson said.
“This is the type of information Fish and Game needs, and they need it on a timely basis,” Peterson said by phone from Anchorage.
Erickson pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned in December, but was scheduled to change his plea to guilty Thursday in Juneau District Court.
His lawyer Kirsten Swanson, however, told Judge Thomas Nave Thursday there were some last-minute changes in the plea agreement that resulted in her client not changing his plea.
“There’s been some changes, so we’re going to put it back on the trial calendar,” Swanson said.
Nave scheduled a court trial for July 30.
Erickson, who has owned and operated the company with his family since 1996, said he’s hopeful this can be resolved.
He said there must have been a mix-up with the fish tickets, though he says he still hasn’t seen the tickets that are in question. But, he speculated, his office probably thought Fish and Game would be picking them up, while Fish and Game thought the tickets would be mailed to them.
One possible reason for the confusion, Erickson said, was there might have been incorrect poundage information on one of the tickets, which his office held onto in order to amend, which possibly resulted it in never making it to Fish and Game, or arriving late.
He was surprised to learn about the citation, but said, “It’s a wonder that no tickets get lost given the sheer volume we’re dealing with.”
His family’s waterfront processing plant at Auke Nu Cove processes over 7 million pounds of seafood per year, from salmon and halibut to sea cucumbers, crabs and prawns. They have about five to six tenders, which are based out of Juneau and work out of South Chatham, Mid-Chatham, Icy Strait, Lynn Canal, Cross Sound by Elfin Cove, and around Cape Cross, to name a few places.
That means his office handles tens of thousands of fish tickets a year, Erickson said.
“When I say thousands of tickets, I mean thousands of tickets,” he emphasized.
The Alaska Wildlife Troopers in Juneau were not available for comment Friday, but Ketchikan Wildlife Trooper Mark Finses said late fish tickets are not necessarily uncommon.
“We usually work a few of those every year out of each post,” Finses said, referring to the five Trooper posts in Ketchikan, Palmer, Anchorage, Fairbanks and Soldotna.
Peterson said he’s prosecuted a number of similar cases in the Bristol Bay area, though this is his first time doing so in Southeast.
Regardless of how things shake up in court, Erickson said he intends on changing how his office handles fish tickets.
Before, the 10 staffers in the front office shared the day-to-day responsibility of transferring the tickets to Fish and Game based on whoever was available.
Now, there will be a designated fish ticket employee, who will be solely in charge of transferring the tickets, he said.
Erickson complimented his staff during the interview, and said it wasn’t their fault.
“We’ve got a pretty good staff here,” who are very capable, he said. “ ... It basically got away from us.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.