The owner of a wholesale fish processor, Native American Fisheries, was sentenced this week in U.S. District Court in Seattle to three years of probation for violating the Lacey Act by taking more than 7,000 pounds of illegally caught Columbia River salmon and selling it commercially.
Scott Kinley is a member of the Lummi Nation and knew the spring Chinook Columbia fishery was only open to Yakama Nation enrollees who were limited to fishing for subsistence and ceremonial purposes.
At the sentencing hearing U.S. District Judge Lauren King noted that Kinley lied when he was stopped and questioned by fisheries officers. “You lied and told them that the fish was for tribal elders. Instead of giving all of that fish to elders or providing it for a funeral or ceremonial purposes… you sold the vast majority of it and made tens of thousands of dollars.”
“These fish were taken at a critical time, when the Yakama Nation and its fisheries partners were trying to boost spring Chinook salmon returns to the Columbia Basin,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. “The high levels taken during this fishery prompted an emergency closure which hurt those tribal members who wanted fish for subsistence or ceremonial purposes.”
According to records filed in the case, Kinley knowingly purchased and sold thousands of pounds of protected salmon that was not available to his competitors. The investigation revealed that Kinley sold the fish for about $11.75 per pound wholesale, while the retail price was $19.99 retail. That places the full retail value of the salmon at $143,088. Judge King ordered that $143,088 in restitution be paid to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission to fund habitat protection and restoration projects.
“The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Police Department and NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement work collaboratively to protect these endangered species on the Columbia River,” said Greg Busch, Assistant Director of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, West Coast Division. “The tribes and the entire region work too hard to protect and restore native salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin to see them harvested and sold illegally.”
The program manager for the Yakama Nation Fisheries Program described the impact of the illegal sale of the poached fish as stealing from future generations. “Illegal commercial sales encourage overharvest which in turn is detrimental to salmon recovery and rebuilding efforts underway. These activities destroy our attempts at a fair system of allocation and can limit legal harvest in a given year. Lastly, the entire reason for limiting harvest is conservation and recovery, that is, to allow enough fish to make it to either spawning grounds or back to the hatcheries to ensure future generations of fish,” Donella Miller wrote in the Yakama victim impact statement.
The case was investigated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Police Department, with assistance from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.