The Alaska Wildlife Troopers have charged more than a handful of individuals for lying on their sportfishing licenses since late October and offenders thinking they avoided detection may soon find themselves in trouble, as troopers address suspicious cases throughout the winter.
“It keeps the troopers busy during the wintertime,” said wildlife trooper Sgt. Paul McConnell. “We’re so busy in July that we’ll write the names of suspicious people down and put them on the backburner, and then the real investigations start when things slow down.”
False statements on resident sportfishing license leading to charges levied by troopers are prevalent on the Kenai Peninsula. They include lesser to more serious offenses, and some cases reach the Alaska Court System. The pervasiveness of lying for more fish concerns one user group, which fears expulsion from the area’s popular waterways.
Resources are limited during the fishing and hunting seasons. Commercial fishing begins in June, and the king runs begin shortly thereafter. Dipnetters inundate the Peninsula within a month, and the build-up of users continues until fall, McConnell said. That’s when troopers follow paper trails and discover offenders, he said.
Each trooper handles 50 to 100 cases involving false statements on sportfishing licenses during the winter. About five investigations out of every 50 result in charges, McConnell said.
Troopers issued fewer false-statement citations this year than they did during the past two years. So far, in 2012, they have issued 235 citations. Troopers issued 264 citations in 2011 and 310 in 2010.
They will continue to issue citations throughout the winter.
A more common and less serious offense involves individuals who buy licenses early. For example, a person moves to Alaska in June then applies for a residential sports fishing license in September, claiming residency in the state for more than a year. This crime is generally committed to avoid a non-resident fee, McConnell said.
Individuals claiming residency within two or more states, and then hunting and fishing in both of those states is a more serious crime, he said. Dual residency crimes results in fines and suspended jail time.
On Oct. 25, wildlife troopers charged an Anchorage man after an investigation revealed the man claimed more than a year of residency when he had been in Alaska for only 10 days. Ty Sakurada, who arrived in Alaska on July 12, also purchased a 2012 hunting and trapping license.
Wildlife troopers issued Sakurada two $310 citations for the licenses and a summons to the Kenai court for taking 48 personal use salmon, according to an online trooper dispatch.
They also recently charged another two individuals for not meeting residency requirements before purchasing resident sports fishing licenses. The charges were handed down Nov. 25 and 26, according to another dispatch.
McConnell said the problem “certainly seems to be prevalent on the Kenai Peninsula.”
“And I think it has a lot to do with the area’s summertime sports fisheries and the accessibility,” he said.
McConnell has worked as a wildlife trooper for 16 years at posts in Fairbanks, Cordova and Palmer before coming to the Peninsula. He said the area seems to have more issues with lying about residency than any other place he has worked.
Troopers enforce residential requirements for numerous types of licenses around the state, and people are motivated to avoid costs of licensure, said Lt. Bernard Chastain in Anchorage. He said the Peninsula is a busy spot with more wildlife troopers than other areas of the state, which could explain the higher number of offenders.
Ken Federico, president of the South Central Alaska Dipnetters Association, said he believes the majority of the Peninsula’s users follow the law while the remainder does not; they are motivated by greed, he said.
“And I’m talking sports fishing, dipnetting and hunting — all of them,” he said. “There’ll always be that percentage that breaks the law until they get caught.”
People have told Federico outright that they catch their limit on the river, go home, change clothes and return to catch another batch of fish. These stories infuriate him, he said, but he recognizes troopers’ resources are stretched thin and cannot be around all the time.
Two things have the potential to kill dipnetting, Federico said. Habitat degradation or further restrictions due to a rise in the number of people not following the rules.
Users can help by keeping an eye on others and self-policing.
“I’m constantly throwing out emails, telling our members if they see a lawbreaker to call the authorities,” Federico said. “A lot of the times the troopers don’t respond. I know they can’t, especially in June or July. So, I can’t blame them unless they get more funding and the same issues persist.”
All Alaskans should enjoy the state’s natural resources, he said.
Spotting non-residents remains difficult, and so does prosecution of those offenders. The state statute allows people to be gone from the state and remain residents.
“There are plenty of them who look like they don’t live here, but they’re not outside of the law or for some other reason we cannot prosecute them,” McConnell said.
But the troopers have a number of pending cases, including one with a total of 28 separate charges, he said.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.