Seiner Captain Sentenced for Fishing in Closed Waters

A magistrate on Prince of Wales Island handed down the sentence on January 10 against Curtis Demmert, 32, of Klawock, Alaska. It includes a $32,728.79 fine, 180 days of suspended jail time, forfeiture of $17,728.79 from his illegally caught salmon and forfeiture of the F/V Tlingit Lady, the seine skiff, seine nets and everything on board the vessel to the state of Alaska.

Demmert pleaded guilty on December 19 to commercial fishing during a closed period, fishing too close to a salmon spawning stream and falsifying his commercial fish ticket.

The Alaska Department of Law’s Office of Special Prosecutions said state wildlife troopers received a report on September 13, 2017 that the 58-foot commercial seiner captained by Demmert was seining for salmon at the head of Coco Harbor, roughly 65 miles into closed waters. The harbor is home to several salmon spawning streams and has been closed to commercial fishing for nearly 30 years. Later that evening the caller reported again that the vessel was making an additional set in Coco Harbor. After the final set the vessel blacked out its lights and left the area in the dark.

The next morning Demmert offloaded 23,159 pounds of salmon to a commercial fishing tender, authorities said. Demmert claimed his catch came in open water near Mclean Arm, some 65 miles away from Coco Harbor. The average seiner catch in the open area was 9,000 pounds.

Based on the distance into closed water and the fact that Demmert was fishing near a salmon spawning stream, an illegal practice known as creek robbing, wildlife troopers seized the vessel and everything on it, including the skiff and seine nets.

During sentencing, the attorney from the Office of Special Prosecutions argued that Demmert took a calculated risk in fishing far into closed waters for potentially significant monetary gain and that his actions put a salmon run in peril.

“Without vigorous enforcement of the regulations, fish in Alaska could be wiped out, and the employment, sport, subsistence and traditions of Alaskans gone with them,” argued Assistant Attorney General Aaron Peterson, who prosecuted the case.

Peterson urged forfeiture of the fishing vessel, saying that “other commercial fishermen and the general public must know that if a fisherman commits an offense this egregious, the vessels and instrumentalities used in aid of the violation will be lost to them.”