ANCHORAGE — Trials set to begin Tuesday have been postponed for Alaska Native fishermen charged with illegal fishing during a poor summer salmon run, their attorney said Monday.
Attorney James J. Davis Jr. said he sought the delay for 11 subsistence fishermen to be tried in Bethel. Ten others are scheduled for January trials in Bethel, as well.
A status conference has been scheduled for Nov. 30 before Bethel Magistrate Bruce Ward to discuss how and when to proceed.
Davis wants to consolidate the 21 cases to allow a specialist on Yup’ik Eskimo culture to act as a pro bono expert for all the fishermen. The expert, Chase Hensel, would be available until mid-December or in March, Davis said.
Davis said he spoke with some of the fishermen Monday and they were glad to have Hensel’s support.
“I think they feel hopeful,” Davis said. “They’re feeling positive about it.”
Last month, three other fishermen tried separately in Bethel were found guilty of violating strict fishing restrictions last summer. Harry David and Adolph Lupie, both of Tuntutuliak, and Emil Williams, of Bethel, each were fined $250.
In the trials, Davis argued no one notified the fishermen about restrictions and they didn’t know what the rules were.
But Ward said the fishermen were negligent for not finding out about the restrictions.
Showing their support for the fishermen, several tribes have raised more than $10,000, according to Davis.
“This money is to help the fishermen pay for any fines that the court imposes and any travel expenses they incur from flying in from their villages,” he said.
In all, 60 fishermen from western Alaska originally faced misdemeanor charges of using restricted gear or fishing in closed sections of the Kuskokwim River in western Alaska during the summer king run.
Most charges were later reduced to minor violations, and a little more than half pleaded guilty to the reduced counts and were ordered to pay $250 fines.
State and federal officials have said ensuring sustainability for future runs is always the overriding priority, and this year’s king numbers were severely low. The poor runs led to federal disaster declarations for the Yukon-Kuskokwim area as well as Cook Inlet.