Trials began today for fishermen who allegedly fished with salmon nets when they were restricted this past summer. Seats were full at Courtroom 4 at the Bethel Court House. Representatives with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were present along with several staff from the Association of Village Council Presidents, other tribal leaders, and seniors from the Bethel Senior Center.
Much of the morning was spent deciding how the trials will proceed. The prosecution and defense disagreed on several points including the order of the fishermen and whether or not to allow a KYUK witness to testify.
At about 10:30, the trial of the first of 24 fishermen began, that of Harry David of Tuntutuliak. He was cited on June 22 near Tuntutuliak.
The private law firm, the Northern Justice Project is representing all 24 fishermen pro bono.
The prosecution–the State of Alaska–did not give an opening statement but the defense did. Attorney, Jim Davis Jr., told the court that the state did not distribute the fishing rules properly. He said Fish and Game issued 22 emergency orders, that they expected fishermen to follow. He said none of them were translated into Yup’ik, they weren’t posted in the village, and they were only broadcast on KYUK.
He said no one told Harry David that there were restrictions and he didn’t know what the rules were.
The defense said that this is a basic fairness issue and that Fish and Game didn’t treat David in a fair way.
The State’s first witness was Alaska Wildlife Trooper John Cyr. He cited Harry David for fishing with a net that was over 6 inches. He said David was drift netting at the time. The trooper seized the net and the fish.
The defense asked the trooper several questions about his knowledge of how the emergency order was communicated to fishermen.
The defense, Jim Davis Jr., asked the trooper how he measured the net. He said he measured the net from knot to knot, which is how they do it in the field, he said. Legally nets are required to be measured hanging up wet, with a 5 pound weight attached to it, which the Trooper hadn’t done in the case of Harry David.
Later, the Trooper said that if he would have done it the legal way, it would be even bigger than measuring knot to knot. He said he didn’t have anything to hang it from.
Defense also clarified that the Wildlife Trooper did not have an interpreter with him when he cited David.
An interpreter has been translating the court proceedings by telephone.
KYUK will be reporting on the trials as they progress. Check back for updates.