A Prince of Wales Island commercial fisherman had to forfeit his fishing vessel and gear after he was charged with illegally taking spawning salmon from an area long since closed to commercial fishing.
Curtis Demmert, now 32 of Klawock, was fishing in Coco Harbor, on Dall Island to the west of Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska, according to the charging document and other court filings.
It’s an area that has been closed to commercial fishing for at least 29 years, a state biologist told wildlife troopers investigating the matter.
“This is extraordinarily uncommon,” said Aaron Peterson, an assistant attorney general in the Office of Special Prosecutions. “The level of egregiousness is what sets it off.”
Sometimes fishermen fall asleep and drift over a boundary line. Sometimes their GPS tracking system puts them in the wrong spot. That is not what happened here, Peterson said.
Demmert was fishing 65 miles into closed waters – not just barely over the line between legal and illegal fishing, prosecutors said.
Demmert pleaded guilty last year to four misdemeanors: commercial fishing during a closed period, commercial fishing in closed waters, putting false information on a fish ticket and unlawful possession of fish.
On Jan. 10, he was sentenced by Magistrate Judge Kay Clark to a year of probation and $32,728.79 in fines. The judge also ordered him to forfeit money and property: $17,728.79 — the value of the illegally caught salmon, his interest in fishing seiner Tlingit Lady, his skiff, nets and all other fishing gear.
Demmert was “creek robbing,” Peterson said, a term that describes when commercial fishing is done illegally at the mouths of salmon streams. Several streams feed into Coco Harbor.
Here’s the official press release from the state’s department of law:
On Wednesday, January 10, 2018, commercial salmon seine captain Curtis Demmert was sentenced to multiple misdemeanor counts relating to commercial fishing in closed waters, fishing too close to a salmon spawning stream, and falsifying his commercial fish ticket.
On September 13, 2017 Alaska Wildlife Troopers received a report that the F/V Tlingit Lady, a 58 foot commercial seine vessel captained by Curtis Demmert, was seining for salmon at the head of Coco Harbor, roughly 65 miles into closed waters. Coco Harbor is home to several salmon spawning streams and has been closed to commercial fishing for nearly thirty years. Later that evening the caller reported again that F/V Tlingit Lady was making an additional set in Coco Harbor. After the final set the vessel blacked out its lights and left Coco Harbor in the dark.
On the morning of September 14, Demmert offloaded 23,159 pounds of salmon to a commercial tender vessel. Demmert claimed the fish were caught on September 13 in open water near Mclean Arm, some 65 miles from Coco Harbor. The average catch for seiners fishing in the open area was 9,000 pounds.
Based on the distance into closed water and the fact that Demmert was fishing near a salmon spawning stream (an illegal practice known as “creek robbing”), the Wildlife Troopers seized the F/V Tlingit Lady and everything on it, including the skiff and seine nets. On December 19, 2017 Demmert pleaded guilty to Commercial Fishing During Closed Period (for “creek robbing” near a salmon spawning stream), Commercial Fishing in Closed Waters, False Information on an ADF&G Fish Ticket, and Unlawful Possession of Fish.
On January 10, 2018 the defendant was sentenced by the court in Prince of Wales. The prosecutor from the Department of Law, Office of Special Prosecutions argued that Demmert took a calculated risk when he fished far into closed waters for potentially significant monetary gain and that his actions put a salmon run in peril. The prosecutor stated that “without vigorous enforcement of the regulations, fish in Alaska could be wiped out, and the employment, sport, subsistence, and traditions of Alaskans gone with them.” In arguing for forfeiture of the fishing vessel the prosecutor stated “other commercial fishermen and the general public must know that if a fisherman commits an offense this egregious, the vessels and instrumentalities used in aid of the violation will be lost to them.”
The court imposed a sentence including a $32,728.79 fine, 180 days of suspended jail time, forfeit $17,728.79 from the illegally caught salmon and forfeit the F/V Tlingit Lady, the seine skiff, seine nets, and everything aboard the vessel to the State of Alaska. The case was investigated by the Alaska Wildlife Troopers in Southeast Alaska. The case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Aaron Peterson of the Alaska Department of Law, Office of Special Prosecutions.