Facebook pics lead to charges against guide

A Soldotna sportfish charter captain bragging about his clients’ catch on Facebook has led to the captain being charged with 43 violations. In an affidavit filed June 17, Alaska Wildlife Trooper Trent Chwialkowski said that Mel Erickson, 53, himself or aided clients in continuing to fish within 1 mile of shore near Anchor Point after catching king salmon in the early-run special harvest area, failing to record king salmon, taking an annual overlimit of king salmon, taking an annual overlimit of halibut, retaining halibut as a charter guide, unlawfully discarding halibut carcasses, failing to retain halibut carcasses and failing to complete saltwater logbooks.

On May 20 Erickson was charged with retaining halibut in violation of National Marine Fisheries Services regulations and for chartering clients in violation of NMFS regulations. The recent affidavit is in support of 43 additional violations.

According to Chwialkowski’s affidavit, on May 19 he got a tip about Erickson’s Facebook page. Chwialkowski said he looked at the Facebook page and saw photos of the same fishermen fishing on Erickson’s boat, the Gamefisher, for at least two days. Chwialkowski said the photos showed the same four men with king salmon more than 20 inches and daily bag limits of halibut. He said in one comment Erickson wrote, “The kings were caught out of Anchor Point.” Some of those photos were still up on Erickson’s Facebook page last week.

On May 20, Chwialkowski said he saw Erickson’s truck depart the Anchor Point beach tractor launch. Using a spotting scope, Chwialkowski said he videotaped the Gamefisher leaving the shore. Chwialkowski wrote he later used the scope to spot the boat from a turnout near Whiskey Gulch. He said he saw fishermen land three kings within a mile of shore and then saw four rods with lines in the water. State regulations say a person can’t continue to fish within a mile of shore after catching kings.

Later that day at the tractor launch, Chwialkowski wrote that he contacted Erickson. He said he looked at Erickson’s logbook and alleged on five days of chartering Erickson failed to complete his logbook. Chwialkowski said Erickson has been guiding for more than 20 years.

Erickson initially claimed he didn’t charter any clients, and that the fishermen, all from Pennsylvania, were just friends, but later admitted the men were paid clients on four days of fishing, Chwialkowski wrote. Chwialkowski said Erickson told him he didn’t know about an emergency order restricting the annual limit to two kings within the early-run harvest area or the annual limit of five halibut for charter fishermen.

The clients said they caught a king a day for four days of fishing, resulting in each client overharvesting two kings each, and only logged one fish each, Chwialkowski said. The men also kept their daily bag limit of two halibut a day for four days of fishing, putting them three fish over the annual limit of five fish each for charter fishermen.

Chwialkowski alleged he found only filleted halibut. International Pacific Halibut Commission regulations say that if filleted, the carcass with head and tail must be kept until fillets are offloaded. IPHC regs also say no more than one of two halibut caught in a day can be more than 29 inches.

The total violations for Erickson are three continuing to fish violations, 12 failure to record violations, eight overlimit king salmon violations, 12 take overlimit of halibut violations, two unlawfully retained halibut by guide violations, one unlawfully discarded halibut violation and five logbook violations.

Erickson was arraigned on June 23 and his next court appearance is Sept. 14. In an email to Erickson seeking comment, Erickson said since it was a legal matter he declined to comment at this time.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.