Politics

U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka cited for fishing without commercial crew license

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka has been cited and fined $270 for commercial fishing without a commercial fishing crew license, the Alaska Department of Public Safety said Friday.

Tshibaka, running in next year’s race for U.S. Senate for the seat currently held by Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, used commercial fishing gear in a July campaign ad partially filmed at a setnet site owned by former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman.

Tshibaka did not hold a commercial fishing crew license at the time, public records show.

Officials from the Department of Public Safety opened an investigation, and “after a thorough investigation and in consultation with the Alaska Department of Law’s Office of Special Prosecutions,” wildlife troopers cited Tshibaka.

In a written statement, Tshibaka said she “will abide” by the citation but believes officials are misapplying the licensing statute, which “clearly and expressly exempts a ‘visitor or guest’ aboard a commercial fishing vessel, which is obviously what I was.”

“Under no circumstances could I have been defined as commercially fishing. I was not paid, I did not materially assist in the operation, and the fish I touched were not sold,” the statement said.

In 2004, when the Alaska Legislature considered legislation allowing tourists to buy a one-day commercial crew license, officials from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game testified that tourists are allowed on commercial fishing boats but can’t touch a fish or a net without a crew license.

In addition to the commercial fishing citation, investigators examined whether Tshibaka illegally purchased a resident-only sportfishing license in 2019.

Last week, Murkowski pointed to that accusation in an interview with CNN, saying, “she’s got a problem with her fishing license and residency problem.”

Knowingly violating the law on fishing licenses is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $300, but in this case, prosecutors couldn’t prove Tshibaka knew she was doing something illegal.

“We declined any criminal charges due to insufficient evidence to establish her mental state. This left the strict liability citation, and we believe it is a good fit,” said Department of Law attorney and spokeswoman Grace Lee.

In her written statement, Tshibaka said Murkowski, “her campaign team, her minions in the media, and her political pals have unjustly tarnished my name by falsely accusing me of getting the wrong sport fishing license. It was all a lie. The Alaska Wildlife Troopers and the Office of Special Prosecutions determined no wrongdoing on my part, just as I maintained from the beginning.”

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