The following is the text of an eMail I received from Rick Bierman, owner of Whale's Eye Lodge near Juneau. I did not write it - the words are Rick's, but I did witness the events unfold. Scary stuff... I hope everyone who camps out on their boat is either cooking the entire fish they catch or transporting whole fish (salmon, lings and halibut) if they're ever in possession of "already landed fish."
Here's what happened:
Today I watched a NMFS officer confiscate a Yukon citizen’s legally caught halibut on the public dock at Auke Bay in Juneau. Alaska has an agreement with the Yukon that we can fish each other’s territory on a resident license. The crime was transporting legally caught and legally processed halibut by boat. A new federal law prohibits transportation of sport caught halibut on Alaskan waters without the skin attached and accompanied by the carcass even if, as in this case, it was taken to a port off loaded taken to a processor filleted cut up and frozen. Though this fish, when processed, is legally no longer part of your possession limit under state and federal law, once it is placed back on your vessel it again becomes subject skin and carcass laws by the feds.
I spoke with the victim. He said he and three others brought their boat down to Haines from Whitehorse as they do each year. They went out to Elfin Cove where they rented a cabin which they have done before. They caught the fish each day and brought it back to the cabin where they filleted cut and vacuum sealed it. When they came back to Juneau they tied their boat at then public dock and went to the supermarket to buy supplies for their trip back home.
While shopping, they got a call on their cell from NMFS telling them to return to the dock and answer some questions. NMFS had boarded their boat while they were away, checked their coolers and found the fish, frozen and processed. They confiscated all 450 lbs. and told them they were going to give it to a local charity. They first said they could keep half but then called a supervisor who said confiscate it all. When they asked the officer why he boarded their vessel without permission he said “he wanted to get a jump on the game.”
NMFS boarded their boat with out their knowledge or permission and checked their coolers. They dug around on the boat for enough information to get their cell number. When they arrived back at their boat all the fish was spread out on the dock.
I happened to be at the fillet table cutting halibut as this was going on. I asked the officer if I could put my guests, one of whom was a 70 year old lady, along with the fish on my boat and drive them to the loading area 200 yards away. “Walk it up,” he said.
Lodges may not transport client fish on the water even if it is frozen and packed unless the fillets are whole with skin and accompanied by the carcasses and no more than a possession limit my accompany each person on the transporting vessel. This is being enforced way overboard and needs to be changed. We need to contact our congressional delegation and state politicians and get the word out. In Juneau it is being enforced by a plain clothed federal agent.
Every lodge owner needs to write or call someone tomorrow about this.