Appeals court reinstates charges in fishing case

ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Court of Appeals on Friday reinstated charges against a former state senator and others for violating conditions of their subsistence fishing permits.

A wildlife officer in August 2009 cited then-lawmaker Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, and others for catching more sockeye salmon than allowed under a subsistence fishing permit.

The state Department of Fish and Game in 2001 conducted a survey of the sockeye salmon fishery in the Kanalku Lake area near Angoon. The assessment found the number of sockeye had fallen to dangerous levels that put the fishery at risk. The department met with Angoon residents and established voluntary catch limits.

That didn’t improve numbers, and in 2006 the department altered terms and conditions of Kanalku subsistence permits, reducing the annual catch from 25 salmon to 15 salmon.

In 2009, a state trooper watched Kookesh and three other men seining on the lake, collecting a total of 148 sockeye salmon.

The men challenged the citations and Superior Court Judge David George in 2010 dismissed the cases.

George ruled that the yearly family limit of 15 sockeye salmon under which the four were cited was adopted by the state Department of Fish and Game without public comment as required by state law.

The state countered that the lower court did not consider a statue that gives the state Board of Fisheries independent authority to authorize the issuance of subsistence permits. It also claimed George’s decision should have considered a law that allows the Fish Board to delegate authority to the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game to act in its behalf.

The state argued that the department has independent authority to “manage, protect, maintain, improve, and extend the fish ... resources of the state in the interest of the economy and well-being of the state.”

The appeals court, in its ruling, agreed, saying, the Board of Fisheries has the authority to enact regulations of that type, and sent the cases against the fishermen to the lower court.

Besides Kookesh, now the board chairman of Sealaska Corp., charges also stand against Stanley D. Johnson and Rocky L. Estrada Sr. Another man, Scott Hunter, was originally charged, but took a plea deal and wasn’t part of the challenge, said the fishermen’s attorney, Doug Strong of Juneau.

Juneau-based Sealaska is a regional Native corporation.

Strong said the appeals court decision notes that the Board of Fisheries has for decades allowed the Department of Fish and Game to let harvest limits and other restrictions, and the Legislature has done nothing to limit this power.

Strong said that might be a basis for appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court, but he won’t be involved. Beyond informing his clients of Friday’s decision, he said he has closed his practice.

The state attorney general’s office could not offer immediate comment.


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