Anchor Point fisherman accused of weir sabotage

Posted: Thursday, September 09, 2010

ANCHORAGE - An Anchor Point fisherman endangered Fish and Game workers by floating trees down the Anchor River as the crews were building a fish-counting weir, Alaska state troopers said.

Christopher Vigue, 46, was charged last month with felony assault with a dangerous instrument, reckless endangerment, fourth-degree assault and criminal mischief.

A summons was issued Friday. He plans to plead not guilty.

Vigue acknowledges trying to sabotage the weir - a fence he blames for ruining king salmon runs in the river north of Homer. But he said he wasn't trying to hurt anybody.

Troopers said one man was nearly struck by a log in June, but no one was injured.

As Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees waded into the rocky stream to install the weir, Vigue hiked upriver and began floating debris toward the work site, troopers said.

"I tried to send some longer stuff down there, but none of it made it," Vigue told the Anchorage Daily News. "My whole intention was just to hinder their progress of constructing a complete dam, (which) is what they do. They completely dam it up."

Vigue's attack put workers in danger, authorities said.

"They're all sitting there doing their job, working on the weir, and all the sudden all these trees start floating down the river," said trooper Mike Henry, who investigated the case.

Vigue said the charges are completely ridiculous.

"I'm trying to retain an attorney. I've been out of work for a couple months and I don't know how this is going to go for me," he said.

Fish and Game started using the weir in conjunction with sonar to better count kings on the river in 2004. More than 11,000 kings were counted in 2005. About 3,500 made it upstream last year and more than 4,400 this year - short of regulators' goals.

Fish and Game officials said Tuesday that the cause of the king salmon declines is unknown but that the weir is not to blame for any significant impact to fish passage, spawning or returns.

Vigue blames the weir.

A friend tipped him off when Fish and Game and Fish and Wildlife Service workers began installing the weir for the season on June 8, Vigue said.

"I drove up the old Sterling and hiked in there a couple miles up river," Vigue said. His friend sat in a lawn chair and watched the weir.

As many as 15 people were working in the area, though fewer were actually in the water, said Henry, the trooper.

Some workers suspected something was fishy when an unusual amount of debris began to arrive. Freshly cut trees appeared, six to eight inches in diameter, Henry said.

Vigue said he didn't cut any trees and only pushed debris from the edge of the river bank into the swift water. He said he checked with his friend on the lawn chair to see how things were going. About 99 percent of what Vigue was launching down-river wasn't actually making it to the weir, he said.

A day or two later, Vigue was on his way to go fishing when he spotted a Fish and Game employee crossing the road. Vigue stopped his pickup.

"I told them they need to leave the fish alone and that they were parasites on our fish," he recalled.

The employee took note of Vigue's license plate, and troopers had their man.

Vigue told the investigating trooper he thought Fish and Game was breaking federal law by blocking salmon and acknowledged sending debris down the river, Henry said.

Vigue said he fishes the river for subsistence and sport.

"It's a great way to stay out of trouble," he said.

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