Four charged in alleged oyster poaching

Alaska State Troopers on July 24 charged a fourth person in an alleged theft of about $200 in oysters from a Little Jakolof Cove oyster farm. Using images from a trail camera that took photos of a group on the dock of the oyster farm, troopers identified a fourth suspect as Anders Gustafson, 37. Troopers previously had identified Ward Matthew Clarke, 44, Rebecca M. Clarke, 38, and Christine L. Anderson Kulcheski, 47. All four face charges of fourth-degree theft and first-degree criminal trespassing.

Matthew Clarke is the Homer deputy harbormaster and had been a finalist for the position of city manager. Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins said Clarke remains working, but he, Clarke, and City Manager Katie Koester all declined further comment.

According to charging documents, Scott Fell, owner of Oyster Cove Sea Farms, had experienced poaching of oysters at his farm in Bootleggers Cove, also known as Little Jakolof Cove. In response Fell set up a trail camera. Alaska State Trooper John Probst said Fell told him that on June 30 he noticed some of his lantern nets were light. He estimated about 200 oysters worth $200 were missing. Fell reported the theft on July 13. Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters said Fell got images from his trail camera and showed copies of people in the images around town. He told troopers he identified three adults as the Clarkes and Anderson Kulcheski. Troopers later identified a fourth adult as Gustafson. The photos also showed children with the adults. Fell provided the images and a citizen’s arrest from to troopers. Probst wrote in his complaint that Cove Sea Farms has a no-trespassing sign on its dock.

Oyster poaching is an ongoing problem at Kachemak Bay oyster farms, said Marie Bader, president of the Kachemak Shellfish Mariculture Association.

“A lot of time and human resources have gone into that particularly oystery,” Bader said. “For someone nonchalantly come in to help themselves to prepared product is rather brazen.”

Oysters are grown on a series of nets called lantern nets that are suspended from buoys. Farmers periodically lift and clean oysters on the nets. Poachers who take oysters not only steal product, but can damage the nets or even lose them in deep water, Bader said.

“It’s kind of like someone stealing or taking your prize peony out of your garden that you have prepared for the garden show,” Bader said.

Sea otters don’t damage the oysters because they are too sharp, Bader said, although otters to try to get at Pacific blue mussels.

Andrew Haas, a Homer lawyer representing Anderson Kulcheski, disputed the amount alleged to have been taken.

“It’s clearly not 200,” he said.

Haas said his client has not been arraigned but intends to plead not guilty. Troopers issued a summons and did not arrest any of the defendants.

“She feels terrible about that,” Haas said of the alleged theft. “She called and apologized.”

Oyster prices at the Kachemak Shellfish Growers Co-op on the Homer Spit range from $15 a dozen for uglies (double-shell oysters) to $20 a dozen for large oysters.

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

 

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