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5 charges slapped on Alaska lodge owners accused of baiting bears

Sean Doogan
A Southeast Alaska fishing and lodge company is facing criminal charges after a trooper camped out near the lodge for two days and observed lodge employees violating numerous fish and wildlife regulations, including the intentional feeding of black bears. istockphoto

The owners of a Ketchikan fishing lodge are facing five criminal counts after an Alaska Wildlife Trooper went under cover for two days, hiding in brush and watching employees of the Clover Bay Lodge as they fed bears and broke other state fishing and game laws.

Misdemeanor criminal charges -- including the illegal feeding of black bears -- were filed after Trooper Jeremy Baum spent more than two days hiding in brush near the Clover Bay Lodge, observing bears being fed and a number of other fishing and wildlife violations.

A 20-year-old lodge employee, Austin Duckworth, already faces a non-criminal citation over the alleged illegal activities Baum observed. The new charges could cost the lodge owners, Ketchikan residents, up to $50,000.

According to court documents, Baum was piloting his personal boat on his own time in early August, when he noticed one the of the lodge’s boats improperly releasing rockfish that were caught incidentally while clients on the boat were fishing for halibut. That prompted Baum to begin a clandestine surveillance of the Clover Bay Lodge, which offers a floating charter fishing operation anchored north of Cholmondeley Sound on the east side of Prince of Wales Island.

On Aug. 8, Baum began hiding out about 100 feet from the lodge on property managed by the U.S. Forest Service. For two and a half days, Baum watched as fishing boats took clients out to try their luck catching halibut, flounder, and salmon. Baum said fishing limits were violated and that the lodge fed guests shrimp sportfished, which is against the law in Alaska, where fish served to guests of a commercial enterprise must be purchased from a licensed commercial fisherman.

The trooper also claimed he saw the lodge's guides allow clients to keep three halibut in a day despite a one-fish-per-person bag limit. Baum also charges that he saw king and silver salmon bellies being used as bait by the lodge. State law prohibits an edible part of a sport fish from being used as bait.

But of all the violations Baum claims he witnessed at the site, one stands out. The wildlife trooper said he saw, on two occasions, lodge workers taking people and fish carcasses over on a boat to nearby black bears.

The fish pieces were then thrown to the bears, according to Baum.

“I overheard Hernandez (a lodge worker) tell Wortman (a guest), 'They usually have more bears come out,'" Baum wrote in the charging documents.

Baum said the boat came back a second day, filled with seven people, and again began feeding fish carcasses to black bears.

The latest indictment charges the lodge itself, not uncommon in cases like this, according to Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen. If found guilty, the owners -- Ryan Morin and family of Ketchikan -- would be liable for any fines levied against the lodge.

A call to Morin was not returned Wednesday.

Contact Sean Doogan at sean(at)alaskadispatch.com