Kenai River Sportfishing Association accused of eavesdropping

JUNEAU — Alaska’s “fish wars” may have entered a new phase with the disclosure of allegations that someone at the Soldotna headquarters of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association was eavesdropping on a January teleconference meeting of the United Fishermen of Alaska board of directors.

In a Feb. 12 news release, the UFA announced that it had “begun the process of turning over information to the authorities” with the expectation of a criminal investigation.

UFA, the umbrella trade association for 34 commercial fishing gear groups and support organizations, and KRSA have battled for years at Board of Fisheries meetings over Cook Inlet salmon allocations and other disagreements between the commercial and guided sport fishing sectors.

Assistant District Attorney Nick Polasky said Feb. 12, that he had referred the UFA to the State Troopers after the group brought its complaint to him. Trooper Spokesperson Beth Ipsen declined to confirm, or deny, that an investigation had been opened.

The story broke on the fishing blog Deckboss with the publication of a leaked Jan. 31 “confidential draft” letter from UFA Interim President Bruce Wallace to KRSA board Chairman Eldon Mulder, that “someone” at the KRSA office in Soldotna had “surreptitiously and without authorization” listened to a Jan. 17 UFA teleconference.

The session was convened to discuss current and possible applicants for the Board of Fisheries vacancy that Gov. Sean Parnell filled with his Feb. 6 appointment of Reed Morisky, a Fairbanks guide and charter business operator. The letter noted that information about the “substance of our discussions ... was transmitted” to Karl Johnstone, the board chairman.

The letter notes that eavesdropping is a crime in Alaska and says, “Our purpose in writing is to inquire whether KRSA board members are aware of this interception of our private communications and if not” to investigate the matter and provide an explanation.

It also asks Mulder “for a commitment from KRSA that its offices will never again be used for this purpose” and to make clear to its board and staff members that the behavior would not be tolerated.

Mulder declined to be interviewed directly but in response to emailed questions said, “We will not be responding to UFA.”

The UFA letter to KRSA states whoever called in from the Soldotna office listened to approximately 70 minutes of the 90-minute teleconference. Mulder indicated that he was not aware of any of his board or staff calling in to the UFA teleconference on behalf of KRSFA, or telling anyone else.

“Neither I nor the KRSA Board have knowledge of any conversation with Judge Johnstone regarding a UFA teleconference,” he wrote.

Wallace, interviewed Feb. 12, said UFA’s teleconference vendor had confirmed that KRSA had called in, and Johnstone himself told them he had received information about their meeting.

“He said he was told very precisely what was in the meeting,” Wallace said of Johnstone. “We know the originating interception call came from the KRSA office.”

Wallace said meeting discussions centered on possible new board members, briefly on whether current members Tom Kluberton and Vince Webster would reapply and, “specifically, the things we’d like to see represented in a good Board of Fish member.”

All that got turned into a conspiracy to remove the two incumbents, whose terms end this June, Wallace said.

“They were told by someone that we were coming after them to the point that we felt constrained, once we sent the KRSA letter, to call them both” and explain UFA had no such plans, Wallace explained.

Bob Tkacz is a correspondent for the Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].

02/14/2013 - 9:08am