Wildlife troopers do job without discriminating

Protecting Alaskans and their wildlife resources is the mission of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers. This mission is executed fairly and equally with no discrimination to any group. I wish to respond to the letter to the editor signed by Fred Basargin, Dennis Basargin and others alleging “not all fishermen treated equally.” 

In their letter to the editor, these fishermen claimed, “We as a group of Bristol Bay drift fishermen are deeply concerned about the actions of the Alaska State Troopers and their approach of targeting us, so-called ‘Russian’ fishermen.  This salmon season, around July 2013, it has become increasingly obvious to us of the unfair treatment of our fishing group.  We feel strongly discriminated against.”  

The 2013 Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery, the largest commercial salmon fishery in the world, had at its peak 1,420 registered commercial fishing boats with 1,728 permit holders and more than 1,000 registered commercial setnet sites operating in various fishing districts within Bristol Bay.  

Nineteen troopers and 20 civilian personnel participated during enforcement activities from June 15 through July 22, 2013, in various areas surrounding Bristol Bay.  The Patrol Vessels Stimson and Woldstad participated supporting six patrol skiffs, as well as serving as a base of operations for enforcement and search and rescue operations throughout Bristol Bay. Five fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter also were used to provide air support for enforcement and search and rescue operations. The following summary enforcement actions occurred during the program:

• Commercial fish: 2,439 resource user contacts, which resulted in a total of 193 warnings and 163 citations; 

• Sport fish: 2,014 resource user contacts, which resulted in a total of 69 warnings and 47 citations; and

• Boating safety: 487 resource user contacts, which resulted in a total of 57 warnings and 16 citations.

The fishermen’s erroneous allegation is based on an enforcement operation that occurred on July 18, 2013, during Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery in the Ugashik District. During the 2013 operation, the Alaska Wildlife Troopers in King Salmon received calls from the Ugashik Fishing District complaining of numerous vessels illegally fishing north of the northern boundary of the Ugashik District in closed waters.

Two fishermen who called were concerned that there was no way to fish legally near the “north line.” Both said the illegal fishing started about an hour after high tide; and the illegal fishing had been going on ever since a group of boats arrived from other fishing districts. 

Another fisherman called to report, “Boat(s) are fishing way over the legal boundary line. It had been an orderly fishery until now, but a bunch of boats moved in and it’s impossible to get a legal set; we would like some enforcement.”

Due to the higher concentration of fishing vessels in the other fishing districts and limited resources, we were not able to dispatch one of the patrol vessels to the Ugashik District until July 21, 2013. Consequently, a shore-based surveillance operation was adapted and executed from the bluff in Ugashik. 

During the Ugashik bluff operation on July 18, 16 vessels, several of which were dual permitted vessels, were observed illegally fishing in closed waters north of the northern Ugashik District boundary lines. Several of these vessels made multiple illegal sets that day for a total of 33 observed violations of fishing in closed waters involving 19 defendants; which included by last name only, Balch (3 violations), Basargin (1 violation),  Stevens (1 violation),  Most (1 violation),  Basargin (3 violations), Pozdeen (1 violation), Waldron (1 violation), Velsko (1 violation),  Rasmussen (3 violations),  Stier /Jacob, Kroff (dual permits) (1 violation each),  Gibbens / Day (dual permits) (1 violation each), Basargin (4 violations), Thistle (2 violations), Sharabarin (1 violation),  Gostevskyh / Efimoff (dual permits) (1 violation). 

At no time did troopers single out or focus on any particular group of fishermen. The inference is insulting to the integrity of our individual troopers who are duty bound to protect the individual rights of every Alaskan.  

Our enforcement operations were to ensure all fishermen had fair and equal access to the salmon, and to stop those who were illegally fishing in closed waters and gaining an unfair economic advantage over those fishermen legally fishing. Our enforcement actions were not, nor have they ever targeted a specific ethnic group.  

The sheer number of Bristol Bay fishing vessels (1,420 registered vessels) and the fact that there were more than 160 criminal violations clearly shows there were no discriminatory actions by the Alaska Wildlife Troopers.  On the contrary, your troopers performed admirably in the world’s largest commercial salmon fishery with limited resources protecting Alaska’s valuable wildlife resources and ensuring all resource users had fair and equal access to those resources.

Col. James E. Cockrell is the director of Alaska Wildlife Troopers and also is currently serving as director of the Alaska State Troopers. He first pinned on a badge as a Fish and Wildlife Protection Officer in 1983. He rose through the ranks and retired as a major for the Alaska State Troopers in 2004. His retirement was short lived.