Longtime lobbyist accused of fishing over the line

A seiner hauls in hatchery-produced chum salmon in Crawfish Inlet in 2018. (Photo courtesy of NSRAA)

A fishing industry lobbyist has had his 41-ton salmon catch confiscated for allegedly fishing in closed waters near Sitka.

Bob Thorstenson Jr., a former executive director of Southeast Alaska Seiners Association, was commercial fishing Sunday in Crawfish Inlet when wildlife troopers say he came within 200 yards of a stream.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game area biologist Eric Coonradt told CoastAlaska that drought conditions have made the native pink salmon especially vulnerable near freshwater streams.

“The vast majority of the run is sitting in salt water in basically one giant school,” the Sitka-based fisheries manager said Thursday. “And anybody coming in there with a seine could easily mop up 90% of the run for the year for that stream.”

Pink salmon run in a two-year cycle meaning a seine net could virtually wipe out an odd- or even-year run, he added.

Alaska Department of Public Safety hasn’t released any details on the incident beyond what’s listed in the troopers log.

The seine fleet was predominately targeting hatchery chum salmon. Coonradt says most of the confiscated fish were these hatchery fish. The 83,282 pounds of chum seized from the F/V Magnus Martens were turned over to a seafood processor.

He was registered as a state fisheries lobbyist as recently as last year. On Friday, the 55-year-old Juneau fisherman told CoastAlaska that he didn’t think he was over the line and intended to contest the charge.

In fishing industry circles Bob Thorstenson is a household name.

“You know, Bob has always been a highliner, as fishermen go, he’s a very good fisherman,” said Susan Doherty, who succeeded him as executive director of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association in 2016. “But more than that … he’s really been a longtime kind of visionary of looking out for the best interests of — especially the seine fleet — in Southeast.”

If convicted of the misdemeanor, Thorstenson faces up to a $15,000 fine, a year imprisonment plus the gross value of the catch — estimated to be around $50,000.

It’s not the first time Thorstenson had run afoul of fishing regulations.

In 2010, he was cited for allegedly commercial fishing without a permit off Baranof Island. He’s the son of the late Robert Thorstenson, one of the founders of Icicle Seafoods.

Editors Note: This story has been updated to include comment from Thorstenson and correct that he’s been a legal Alaska resident since 2003.

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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