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Written By: Steve Smith, February 25, 2014
Location: Kenai Peninsula,
When Cal Kellogg asked me to be The Fish Sniffer’s Alaska editor I expected to be writing about fishing, fishing regulations and the unique opportunities Alaska offers for anglers. I’ll be producing material of that sort in the future, but in this column I’m going to discuss something much more serious.
Ethics are at the center of hunting and fishing. Sure we have regulations. Those are the laws that govern what we do on the water or in the field. Beyond those legal guidelines are ethical guidelines.
For example it is perfectly legal to shoot ducks setting on a pond, but a lot of waterfowlers would assert that such a shot, while legal isn’t ethical. This being the case, many if not most waterfowlers follow hunting laws but also follow a code of personal ethics…A higher standard if you will.
When it comes to the enforcement of hunting and fishing laws we all have the expectation that the officers charged with enforcing the laws and protecting our resources will adhere to a high legal and ethical standard and undoubtedly most do. Yet what are you to do, when you encounter wardens or other officials that have the authority of the law, but lack the ethics to do enforce the law in a systematic, truthful fair way?
I can tell you from personal experience that being confronted by authorities that lack ethics is downright scary. Let me tell you a bit about what happened to me. I can’t say that it will help you if confronted with a similar situation, but if nothing else it might raise your awareness…
Space limitations don’t allow me to give an in-depth explanation of my situation, but I’ll toss out the highlights. Two seasons ago a pair of undercover Alaskan troopers booked a trip on my boat for a day of halibut and salmon action in the Cook Inlet.
I could tell right away that the guys were undercover troopers, but I didn’t care I follow all the laws and rules daily regardless of who is on my boat and frankly undercover troopers are paying customers just like anybody else. I was happy for the business and really looking forward to showing them that I’m a professional that is focused on the safety of my customers and on the rules governing sport fishing.
The trip was pretty standard. The halibut were biting and I spent my time boxing keepers, releasing small fish and helping the clients hook and land fish. Once again my focus was the same as it always is, safety, adherence to the rules and outstanding customer service. At the end of the trip, I cleaned the fish and sent everyone on their way apparently happy.
I figured that the troopers would identify themselves at the end of the trip, but they never did. I figured that perhaps I was wrong and that they weren’t troopers. I went on with the season and basically forgot about the entire thing.
Fast-forward thirteen months and I’m contacted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife over the phone. They informed me that I’m being indicted for several code violations. To make a long story shorter, the guys I thought were undercover troopers were just that and now they were making all sorts of allegations. They claimed I gaffed and released dead fish, which as a total lie. They also said I had logbook violations.
Fishing is my business so the first thing I did was contact my lawyer and we started putting together a defense. When we got to court the lies really started to fly out of the troopers’ mouths. When asked why they didn’t cite me on the day of the incident they said they feared that I might have tossed them off the boat, 25 miles from shore at the spot we were fishing. It was unbelievable actually sitting there listening to law enforcement officials telling outright lies and making up wildly false accusations.
In the end all the charges were tossed out, except for a technical logbook violation. When you really get down to it, the logbook violation while accurate was in nothing more than an oversight on my part. Bag limits were observed and not exceeded. We released over 20 halibut that day and kept thirteen. We could have bagged 16 fish legally, so we were in reality 3 fish under the boat limit. I simply didn’t log the two fish I hooked for clients that day. One client was a woman with a very bad back and the other was a wounded U.S. military veteran, but the state seemed compelled to come away with some sort of violation, since they’d spent untold thousands of dollars trying to prosecute me.
These days the case is behind me, but I’m still walking on eggshells. I don’t know what motivated the troopers to try to set me up in the first place, but since I beat them in court they continue to harass and scrutinize me.
As this drama unfolds, I’m raising a young son and daughter. I go out of my way to teach them the rules and I communicate to them that the troopers are the friends of anglers and our fisheries, because that’s is how my father brought me up. Yet I pass this information to my kids with a hollow heart because I know from bitter experience that sometimes doing the right thing isn’t enough.
I’ve thought about why I was targeted a great deal, but I haven’t come to any conclusions. Is it because I originally came from California? Did they cite me because I own a lodge and they thought my only choice was to plead guilty for the sake of my business? Are they now bent on setting me up because I beat them in court?
I don’t know what the answer is. I’m sure there are a lot of real violators operating up here, yet the troopers are spending time harassing a law abiding small business owner rather than chasing the real bad guys.
At this point all I can do is follow the rules. Basically I’m going to do the right thing and hope for the best, but I’ve got my lawyers number on speed dial just incase!
When you’re on the water or in the field be sure to follow all the rules, but I would also make it a point to avoid interaction with wardens as much as possible, since sometimes just following the law isn’t enough when confronted with officials that lack ethics.
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Steve, so sad to hear this, I go to Alaska every year and have yet to see any lodge owners/guides break the law. I have personally fished the Cook inlet and know how tough that can be. Best
By: papagreg on Mar 14, 2014
Well you know how I feel about this Steve. Once again wasting tax dollars on chasing the good guys, while the bad seeds get away with murder. Knucklehead law enforcement at its finest. After
By: Barleycorn on Feb 28, 2014
Hey Steve: I can understand why you were asked to be the Fish Sniffer's Alaska editor. This is a very well written article and straight to the point. It's unfortunate that the corruption and
By: oldgeezer71 on Feb 26, 2014
I could not agree more Mr. Smith, it always seems that the people that try to follow the rules the most are always the ones who are sought after by the law enforcement. While they are pursuing
By: Akhunter95 on Feb 25, 2014
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