Story last updated at 1:50 p.m. Thursday, December 5, 2002

Stolen salmon nets thief probation, service
Chris Bernard

The second man found guilty in the theft of a giant king salmon in Sitka was sentenced to one year's probation and fines of $500 on each of several charges, the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported. Thomas Paine II, 23, was also ordered to complete 150 hours of community work service and repay half of the total $266.50 restitution.

If he successfully completes the probation, the judgment of conviction will be set aside.

The restitution was based on the first wholesale price of $3.25 a pound for the 82-pound dressed salmon Paine helped steal from a freezer at the Seafood Producers Cooperative plant last July. The troll-caught chinook was one of the largest on record.

SPC manager Craig Shoemaker expressed his disapproval of the sentencing, and said he had planned to have the fish mounted for display "as a tribute to the history of the Sitka fishery."

"Its loss was greater than its value per pound on the fishery," Shoemaker told the Sentinel. "There's simply not very many of these big fish left, and it's a shame we couldn't preserve it for future generations to see."

The king was brought to SPC July 16 by commercial trollers, who had cleaned and gutted the fish immediately. The fish's size before being dressed was estimated at about 93 pounds.

The fish was stolen that night from the SPC freezers by Paine and Luke Lowe, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game employee who saw the fish when it was first brought to the dock.

Their initial plan was to photograph the fish and return it to the plant, but they instead took it to a private freezer facility, where Paine filleted it and disposed of the remains.

Though more than 20 people knew who was involved in the theft, it was not until several weeks had passed, and SPC had offered a $500 reward for information, that the Sitka Police Department cracked the case.

Felony burglary charges against Paine and Lowe were later reduced.

A December Board of Fisheries meeting in Cordova was rescheduled for next spring in the wake of the absence of one member and the resignation of another, the Cordova Times reported.

The Dec. 8-15 meeting, which was to focus on the future of dipnetting on the Copper River, will still be held in Cordova, said Diana Cote, executive director of the board.

The delay gives people more time to comment on proposals concerning Chitina dipnetting and king salmon fishing in the Gulkana and Klutina rivers. The deadline for comment was originally Nov. 24, but will be extended until two weeks before a new meeting date.

The delay also means that newly inaugurated Gov. Frank Murkowski has a chance to redesign the look of the board before the rescheduled meeting.

John White, of Anchorage, resigned from the board last month. Board member Russell Nelson was unable to attend the Cordova meeting, meaning the seven-member board would be short.

Board chair Ed Dersham said the issues on the December agenda were too important to be discussed by a short board.

In addition to White's resignation, three board members are temporary replacements named by Knowles in July. The Republican-led Legislature failed to confirm any of the Democrat's appointments before it adjourned in May, which gives Murkowksi the opportunity to appoint his own people to the board.

The meeting must be held before March in order to put new regulations on the books before the coming season.

The United Salmon Association secured a $19,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for marketing and educational activities and an $8,000 grant from the Alaska Conservation Foundation for a brochure that will support the salmon industry, according to an article in the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

The USA anticipates applying for additional grants when the $20 million in aid allocated by Congress for the fishing industry becomes available. That money was approved by the Senate appropriations committee, but will not be put into a bill until spring.

"Hopefully there won't be any snags with that," said Thom Wischer, chair of USA's Kodiak Chapter. "All indicators look good, pending a full-scale war with Iraq."

The $8,000 grant will be used to create an educational brochure about Kodiak salmon, Kodiak Island and Kodiak fishing families, said Wischer. The USDA grant allows the USA to perform market research for wild Alaska salmon, and will provide infrastructure to help members who want to market their own fish.

The USDA grant will also lay the groundwork for USA to apply for additional grants, Wischer said.