Sport guide gets $10,000 fine in fishing violations

A Soldotna sportfish charter captain charged with fishing violations after he bragged about his clients’ catch on Facebook in May 2015 pleaded guilty last month to two amended charges for taking halibut in violation of National Marine Fisheries Service rules. Erickson pleaded guilty to taking two halibut for himself while guiding on two trips.

Mel Erickson, 55, made the change of plea at a hearing on Oct. 20 after making a deal with prosecutors. Homer District Court Judge Margaret Murphy dismissed 41 other charges against Erickson. The charges stem from fishing trips Erickson took in lower Cook Inlet after launching his boat at the Anchor Point beach.

The two counts Erickson pleaded guilty to were reduced from a misdemeanor to a violation. On each of the two counts, Murphy fined him $10,000 with $5,000 suspended. She also suspended his guiding privileges until May 31, 2018, and placed him on probation for two years.

In the original criminal complaint filed in June 2015, Alaska Wildlife Trooper Trent Chwialkowski said that Erickson, either himself or aided clients in fishing within 1 mile of shore near the Anchor River after catching king salmon in the early-run special harvest area, failed to record king salmon, took an annual overlimit of king salmon and halibut, retained halibut as a charter guide, unlawfully discarded halibut carcasses and failed to complete saltwater logbooks. Most of those charges were dropped.

The charges came about after Chwialkowski said on May 19, 2015, he got an anonymous tip suggesting he look at the Facebook page for Erickson and his Alaskan Gamefisher charter business. The next day, using a spotting scope, Chwialkowski monitored the Gamefisher as Erickson launched his boat and later contacted the boat when it returned to the Anchor Point boat launch.

After the sentencing hearing, assistant district attorney Nick Torres filed a motion to correct judgment. Torres noted that under state law, the cap for a first violation is a fine of $3,000. Assistant district attorney Sam Scott attended the sentencing hearing and Torres did not attend the hearing.

According to log notes for the hearing in Erickson’s file, assistant district attorney Sam Scott and Erickson’s lawyer, Joe Skrha, agreed to reducing the charges from a misdemeanor to a violation. Torres claimed that the plea agreement “did not contemplate a reduction to violations.” Murphy’s judgment indicates the charge pleaded to was a violation. Skrha said he would oppose Torres’ motion.

“That was not my understanding. I put on record they were violations,” Skrha said.

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

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