Fisherman faces assault charge over fish weir sabotage

Kyle Hopkins

An Anchor Point fisherman who troopers say launched logs, trees and other debris down the Anchor River in hopes of sabotaging a state Fish and Game Department weir has been charged with felony assault with a "dangerous instrument."

Christopher Vigue said he's fished the Anchor for years and is convinced the weir, which regulators use each year to count fish along the popular river north of Homer, is ruining king salmon runs.

One day in June he decided to do something about it.

As Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees waded into the rocky stream to install the weir, troopers say Vigue hiked upriver and began floating debris toward the work site.

Vigue admits trying to delay the project. He says he wasn't trying to sabotage it and that most of the debris never reached the weir.

"I tried to send some longer stuff down there, but none of it made it," he said. "My whole intention was just to hinder their progress of constructing a complete dam, (which) is what they do. They completely dam it up."

Troopers this month charged Vigue, 46, with felony assault, seven counts of reckless endangerment, fourth-degree assault and criminal mischief.

Authorities say Vigue's attack on the weir -- essentially a fence that funnels fish into small openings -- put workers in danger.

"They're all sitting there doing their job, working on the weir, and all the sudden all these trees start floating down the river," said trooper Mike Henry, who investigated the case.

A former logger who moved to Anchor Point about 10 years ago, Vigue said he wasn't trying to hurt anybody. He disputes certain details of the troopers account and plans to plead not guilty.

The charges are "completely ridiculous," he said in a brief phone interview. "I'm trying to retain an attorney. I've been out of work for a couple months and I don't know how this is going to go for me."

Troopers say no one was injured -- though one man was nearly struck by a log.

Fish and Game started using the weir in conjunction with sonar to better count kings on the river in 2004, a department biologist wrote this summer in the Homer News.

The Anchor has indeed lost fish in recent years. About 3,500 kings made it upstream last year -- down from more than 11,000 kings in 2005. (This year more than 4,400 kings returned, though that still falls short of regulators goals.)

Fish and Game officials said Tuesday that the cause of the king salmon declines are unknown but that the weir is not to blame for any "significant" impact to fish passage, spawning or returns.

Vigue said he and other Anchor Point fishermen don't buy it.

A friend tipped him off when Fish and Game and Fish and Wildlife Service workers began installing the weir for the season on June 8, Vigue said.

"I drove up the old Sterling and hiked in there a couple miles up river," Vigue said. His friend sat in a lawn chair and watched the weir.

As many as 15 people were working in the area, though fewer were actually in the water, said Henry, the trooper. At least one man was in a dry suit, working on equipment under water, he said.

Some workers suspected something was fishy when an unusual amount of debris began to arrive even as the water level dropped. Freshly cut trees appeared, six to eight inches in diameter, Henry said.

Vigue says he didn't cut any trees and only pushed debris from the edge of the river bank into the swift water. He said he checked with his friend on the lawn chair to see how things were going: About 99 percent of what Vigue was launching downriver wasn't actually making it to the weir, he said.

A day or two later, Vigue said he was on his way to go fishing when he spotted a Fish and Game employee crossing the road. Vigue stopped his pickup.

"I told them they need to leave the fish alone and that they were parasites on our fish," he recalled.

The employee took note of Vigue's license plate, and troopers had their man.

Vigue told Henry, the investigating trooper, he thought Fish and Game was breaking federal law by blocking salmon and admitted to sending debris down the river at the weir, Henry said.

At one point the fisherman said "he planned to get zip ties and pepper spray and go down and make some citizen's arrests," Henry said.

A summons for Vigue to face 11 criminal counts was issued Friday, troopers say.

Vigue said he fishes the river for subsistence and sport.

"It's a great way to stay out of trouble," he said.

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