BETHEL, Alaska — Three Alaska Native subsistence fishermen accused of illegally fishing after the state imposed restrictions following a poor king salmon run have been found guilty.
In separate trials Tuesday, Harry David and Adolph Lupie, both of Tuntutuliak, and Emil Williams of Bethel were each convicted and fined $250, Bethel radio station KYUK reported.
They were the first of 24 Alaska Natives to face trial for violating the strict fishing restrictions put in place last summer. The trials will stretch into January, with the next set of men set to appear before a judge Nov. 13.
The men’s attorney, James Davis Jr., argued Tuesday no one notified the fishermen about restrictions and they didn’t know what the rules were.
But Magistrate Bruce Ward said they were negligent for not finding out about the restrictions.
“The fight will go on,” Davis said in an email to The Associated Press.
“Akiak and other tribes have raised enough money to pay all the fisher’s expenses, court fines, and buy them new nets,” Davis said. “That makes them all feel better and very supported.”
The rulings infuriated Myron P. Naneng, the head of the Association of Village Council Presidents.
After the first conviction on Tuesday, Naneng wrote an email to Joseph Masters, the state’s public safety commissioner. A copy of the email was provided to the AP, and Naneng confirmed he wrote the email.
“The ruling only sets up future incidents of protest fishing,” he wrote in the email. “Not because of the lack of concern for the resource, but lack of willingness by the State of Alaska to work with villages and people in the region. As one friend of mine stated, this is ethnic cleansing by State of Alaska in play.”
In all, 60 fishermen originally faced misdemeanor charges of using restricted gear and/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.