SITKA -- The president of the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization has been charged with obtaining an Alaska resident sport fishing license while claiming residency benefits elsewhere.
The Daily Sitka Sentinel reports that 59-year-old Thomas Ohaus, who has been recommended for a seat on the International Pacific Halibut Commission, has hired an attorney and is fighting five misdemeanor counts.
"I take these charges seriously and am in the process of retaining legal counsel," Ohaus said in a statement released by the guide association. "I believe that I have been a resident of the state of Alaska and have been legally eligible for an Alaska resident fishing license. I do not knowingly violate the law and always seek to live and operate my business well within the bounds of the law."
Ohaus is majority owner of a Sitka charter lodge business, Angling Unlimited. The other owner is Charles McNamee, 38, who also was charged. Alaska Wildlife State Troopers contend that both obtained resident fishing licenses despite living most of the year outside Alaska.
Southeast Alaska Guides Organization represents charter operators in Southeast Alaska. The organization and the Kenai River Professional Guide Association jointly recommended Ohaus for a seat on the halibut commission, which manages halibut stocks in the north Pacific.
Alaska resident fishing forms ask applicants if they've been in the state for 12 consecutive months with the intent to remain indefinitely. State law says resident status can be lost if a person claims a benefit in another state or is absent under circumstances inconsistent with residency requirements.
Troopers in charging documents said that Ohaus and McNamee claimed "homestead exemptions" on property in Massachusetts and Minnesota respectively. In both states, troopers said, the exemption can be claimed only on a primary residence. In Massachusetts, a homestead exemption can provide tax benefits.
Wildlife Trooper Tim Hall said in the charging documents that the investigation began after a case had been made against a guide at the lodge who claimed residency despite being in Alaska less than one year.
"The website and my knowledge of the company indicated many of the employees are from Minnesota," Hall said in an affidavit. "Over the past three winters I observed the lodge to be largely unoccupied through the winter months from mid-late September through April."
Ohaus had held resident fishing licenses since 1997. During his investigation, Hall said, he obtained a copy of Ohaus' nomination packet for a seat on the halibut commission. In a letter sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Ohaus acknowledged he was not an Alaska resident, Hall said.
"Upon reviewing a number of legal definitions, in light of personal/family obligations, I am unable to commit to indefinite presence in the state of Alaska for the next several years. As such, I have concluded that my personal circumstances do not meet the threshold for Alaska residency," Ohaus said in the letter.
Ohaus is charged with illegally obtaining a resident fishing license from 2007 to 2011.
A guide considered an Alaska resident also gains respect for local knowledge, he said. Nonresidents are banned or limited in catching king salmon, lingcod, yelloweye and king crab as well as shrimp in Sitka Sound.
Attorney Brent Cole said the charges have nothing to do with the operation of Angling Unlimited. Ohaus did not knowingly violate the law, he said.
"Most people that are in the position he's in don't go out and violate the law," Cole said. "Most people who are successful business people who give to the community are not the type who engage in criminal activity."
The relevant state statutes, he said, are "highly subjective." Confusion surrounding residency rules stems from the different standards that apply to hunting and fishing licenses, voting and the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.
"This is not like a case where you steal somebody's car and drive away and it's pretty obvious what you're intentions are when you do that," Cole said. "It is not as easy as simply looking at the statute and knowing what it means ... It can be very complicated and very difficult to prove one way or another."