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Alaska State Trooper patrol vessel will stay in Unalaska

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman
Alaska State Troopers had sought to move the Stimson, saying it would save $500,000. YouTube screengrab

The state trooper patrol vessel Stimson won’t be leaving Unalaska.

State Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, said the Legislature blocked the move to Kodiak. He said the troopers could administratively relocate the vessel, but that won’t happen because the Legislature will not provide money for the move.

Moving the Stimson from Dutch Harbor to Kodiak could save at least $500,000 per year, according to Col. Jim Cockrell of the Alaska State Troopers.

Commercial crab fishing violations have plummeted because the rationalization program removed the incentive for cheating, reducing the work required of state Fish and Wildlife Protection troopers, according to Cockrell.

In a March 7 resolution, the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference opposed both the relocation of the Stimson and the replacement of the patrol vessel Wolstad with a smaller boat for patrolling commercial salmon fishing in Bristol Bay and fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska.

The Wolstad would be replaced with a 58-foot vessel that would allow closer monitoring of the Naknek-Kvichak salmon district. The new vessel could anchor at the mouths of the rivers and deploy patrol skiffs that would be unsafe to launch during windy weather from the deeper-draft Wolstad, Cockrell said.

Troopers have been unable to patrol entire salmon fishing periods because skiffs couldn’t safely launch from the Wolstad when it was anchored too far offshore of Naknek in an area known as “The Y” in rough waters, Cockrell said.

According to SWAMC, “It is logical to continue to home-port the PV Stimson in the Port of Dutch Harbor and refit the PV Wolstad instead of removing her from service.”

However, Herron said the Legislature agreed with the troopers about replacing the Wolstad with a smaller vessel better equipped for patrolling Bristol Bay.

While Unalaska officials have often spoken of the economic benefits of the Stimson to the city and the school district for boosting student enrollment, those costs are where the state sees a chance to save money.

Cockrell said the annual half-million-dollar savings wouldn’t start until after the first year because of transition costs. But he said Kodiak is way more economical. The electricity rates for powering the docked Stimson are nearly twice as much in Unalaska, compared to Kodiak, he said.

In Unalaska, the troopers pay for housing for five civilian workers and two state troopers. When a Stimson crew member leaves for training or takes time off for personal leave or medical reasons, the state needs to fly in a replacement. In Kodiak, that’s unnecessary because other certified boat personnel live there, Cockrell said.

The biggest reason for moving the Stimson to a less expensive port is due to the big change in the Bering Sea because of crab rationalization, Cockrell said. Because of the rationalization program that introduced individual quotas and led to the fleet’s drastic reduction, the fishermen are a much more law-abiding group, he said.

Before the program kicked in 2005, troopers would “routinely” catch fishermen with illegal pre-season crab harvests worth at least $100,000, Cockrell said.

Prospecting and blackbagging have likewise ended, he said. Blackbagging involved covering the crab pot’s red buoys with black garbage bags to avoid aerial detection.

“Those days have ended,” Cockrell said. The rationalization system is working as intended, he noted.

The 120-foot Wolstad would be drydocked and put up for sale following the Bristol Bay salmon season, said Cockrell. The vessel was constructed in 1982, and needs a major overhaul of the engines and other equipment. The $2.4 million from the legislature was not enough for that project, which would require another $1.3 million, in a naval architect’s opinion, he said.

A 58-foot patrol vessel is well-suited for near-shore state water fisheries typically within six miles of shore, which is mostly what the troopers patrol, Cockrell said.

The Stimson patrols in more distant waters in the Bering Sea crab fisheries, under a special agreement with the federal government which gives the state crab management authority in federal waters beyond three miles offshore.

This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.