9:38 PM AKDT, June 22, 2012
In Southwestern Alaska, a new video shows the tensions between law enforcement officers and subsistence fisherman over a ban on king salmon fishing
A Facebook video showed a law enforcement officer confiscating king salmon on the Kuskokwim River in Akia, and cutting a fisherman's net to do so.
The video was shot Thursday, but was spreading around on the internet Friday.
In the video, the Wildlife Protection Officer can be seen struggling to free an illegally caught king salmon from the net as a group of more than a dozen fishermen looked on.
When he has difficulty doing so, he dips his hand into the water, apparently to wash off fish blood, reaches for a knife in his utility belt, and cuts the dead salmon free.
He does this as more than a dozen people shout at him, yelling phrases like, "You have no right!" and "How could you cut my uncle's net!"
Those nets can cost upwards of $1500.
The confrontation took place as officers have tried to enforce an unpopular ban on subsistence fishing for king salmon on the Kuskokwim.
The ban was enacted after fish-counts of returning Kings on the river proved to be among the lowest ever recorded.
Villagers say if they can't catch enough fish in early June, they're forced to buy food during the winter at incredibly high prices.
Fuel costs mean that in some villages, a gallon of milk can cost $12, and a dozen eggs can cost $7.00
Myron Naneng, who heads "The Association of Village Council Presidents", says it is illegal for law enforcement officers to destroy property in the process of seizing it. "it is not right to destroy anything you're confiscating", he told Channel 2 News. "they were trying to enforce the law and yet they took an unlawful action to do it."
State Troopers are investigating the incident, but say the video does not appear to show any illegal action on the part of the Wildlife Protection Officer.
They say he acted under extremely tense conditions, while being shouted at by at least 15 people.
Alaska State Trooper Spokesman Tim Despain says the unidentified officer cut "two strands" of the net, while trying to disentangle a stuck king salmon that he was confiscating.
The inflamed passions as the result of a 12-day king salmon fishing ban that denied native people much of the subsistence fish they depend upon.
Fish and Wildlife officers say they had to act to protect an extremely low King Salmon run. It's believed the return of the Kings is being delayed by unusually cold conditions -- for this time of year -- in the Bering Sea.
Late this week, Fish and Game authorized subsistence fishermen on the Lower Kuskokwim to capture Chum and Sockeye Salmon to make up for the lack of Kings.
With wet weather forecast for tomorrow, fishermen it will be difficult to properly dry the fish. People in the villages are afraid the Chum and Sockeye will spoil. They have only a narrow window in mid-June during which the weather is ideal for drying. They're afraid they missed it.
Meanwhile, State Troopers point out that they have made 21 confiscations and issued 33 citations this week. There has only been one instance in which a net has been cut.
As subsistence fisherman John Wallace of Bethel pointed out, "Everybody's kind of bummed by they whole thing. Both sides wouldn't want it to be the way it is, right now. The enforcement folks, and the fisher-folks, everybody wants fish. And they're disappointed and frustrated.
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