Hoonah residents worry compensation isn't coming

Some consider suit to get reimbursement for Glacier Bay closure

Posted: Friday, April 26, 2002

National Park Service officials heard this week from Hoonah residents frustrated that they were excluded from compensation for commercial fishing closures in Glacier Bay.

Officials say many of the denied applicants should be successful in their appeals.

"Obviously, the people here in Hoonah have a long-standing history in Glacier Bay," said David Belton, the director of cultural and natural resources for the Hoonah Indian Association. "This effort to compensate kind of opens up a lot of old wounds."

Over the years, some Hoonah fishermen were left out of individual-quota programs in the halibut fishery and state limited-entry fisheries. Purse seine salmon fisheries in the nearby Inian Islands have been closed since the early 1970s. Now Glacier Bay, about 30 miles from Glacier Bay, is being closed to fishermen, and some were denied compensation this month as well.

"We did a lot of listening" and told participants how to remedy their claims, said Glacier Bay National Park Superintendent Tomie Lee, who attended Tuesday's meeting of about 45 successful and unsuccessful applicants.

A 1998 federal law began to phase out commercial fishing in Glacier Bay, which is part of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

"It certainly has compounded the demise of the fishing industry in this community," said Johanna Dybdahl, tribal administrator of the Hoonah Indian Association. "It certainly has cut off the opportunity for new fishermen."

The Hoonah fleet is at an all-time low, she said.

Congress in 1999 authorized $23 million to compensate people, businesses and communities that depended on Glacier Bay commercial fisheries. The park service, which recently decided the claims, said it denied 339 of the 875 applications, mostly for inadequate documentation.

The agency told rejected applicants what information was missing and how to appeal. Park Superintendent Lee said the vast majority of them would be able to remedy their application.

The park service required applicants to document how much fish they caught in Glacier Bay, or how much revenue they derived from the bay's fisheries, in qualifying years.

The requirement favors those who have good paperwork. Halibut fishermen, for example, are required by federal law to document where they catch their fish. State records for salmon fishermen, in contrast, give only broad areas where the fish were caught.

The park service approved the applications of nearly 80 percent of halibut fishermen, but only 30 percent of salmon trollers.

The park service allowed fishermen to supplement records with log books and affidavits from people who saw them fishing in Glacier Bay. But many small-scale fishermen don't keep log books. And some fishermen felt the agency wasn't as liberal in allowing affidavits as they had been led to expect, Dybdahl said.

Jack Lee, a salmon hand-troller and crew member in various fisheries, said about 27 people in Hoonah who didn't receive compensation have formed a group called Icy Straits Fishermen of Glacier Bay. They are considering a class-action lawsuit, Lee said.

Lee, who worked as a crew member in three of the years that qualify for compensation, said he was denied it because he didn't have a crew member license. Lee said he thought his 2001 state trolling permit, which allows him to be a crew member, was sufficient.

Ronald Dick, who managed the compensation program for the park service, said some applicants misunderstood the requirements, which were in writing. "Reading all this and filling out these forms is a daunting process for some people," he said.

Lee's application, for example, required more than a current fishing license. Lee was denied compensation because he didn't provide a crew license or a fishing permit for each year he claimed, Dick said.

Others at the meeting were concerned the program excluded many longtime fishermen who had stopped fishing in the bay by the qualifying years.

Some Hoonah fishermen also think some well-compensated applicants didn't have a long history of fishing in Glacier Bay, Belton said. "I think there's a feeling there's a lot of fraud in this," he said.

Park Superintendent Lee said the General Accounting Office, an arm of Congress, will audit the program "very closely." Citizens' reports of fraud will be investigated by federal authorities, she added.

Besides the individual complaints, there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the closures, she said.

"I know we'll never be able to go back up to Glacier Bay to put a hook in the water or a crab pot in the water forever," fisherman Jack Lee said. "The concerns are no matter how much they give us, we'll never be able to do that."

Tribal administrator Dybdahl said, "When you're talking about the closures of the traditional homeland to commercial fisheries, it's not going to be something this community will ever accept."

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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