Still no charges in Yukon River fishing protest

Investigation underway; Fish and Wildlife Service expects a report in coming days

Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2009

MARSHALL - Six weeks after boasting about illegally fishing the Yukon River, several subsistence fishermen who were protesting strict regulations haven't been cited.

A decision, however, could be coming soon.

The fishermen are from Marshall, a Yup'ik Eskimo village on the Yukon about 400 miles west of Anchorage. They told reporters they caught 100 king salmon on June 26, during a closed fishing period, and delivered the fish to widows, elders and disabled residents.

King salmon has long been a staple food along the Yukon River. Residents dry or freeze the fish to eat yearround. Also, commercial fishing for the fish usually provides one of the few opportunities for villagers to make money.

Authorities have severely restricted king salmon on the Yukon this summer to help the struggling run recover. Commercial fishing for king salmon hasn't been allowed, and subsistence fishing has been limited to two, 18-hour openings each week.

State fish and wildlife officials tell The Cordova Times that someone bragging about committing a crime isn't necessarily enough evidence to file charges, and the investigation - including travel to the village - has taken time.

An investigation report by a state wildlife trooper is expected to be completed in the coming days, and was expected to be forwarded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a decision on charges.

State wildlife trooper Dan Dahl, based in the nearby village of St. Mary's, has traveled to Marshall and started an investigation. Jim Hjelmgren, chief of refuge law enforcement for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska, also went to the lower Yukon village of about 400.

Both the state and federal government have law enforcement authority in the case, but the men said they fished in federal waters of the Yukon-Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

Hjelmgren said he expects to receive Dahl's investigation report in the coming days. Once that arrives, U.S. Fish and Wildlife attorneys will decide whether there's enough evidence to issue tickets.

The charges would be misdemeanor citations that would not require court appearances, Hjelmgren said.

He said his agency has issued about a half-dozen tickets on the Yukon this summer, from Fort Yukon in the Interior to the lower Yukon, including to people who violated fishing closures.

All of those tickets were issued in the field, Dahl said.

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