A real fish war – not just another Alaska yelling matching about who gets to catch what – was waged in Prince William Sound this August with one boat nearly sunk, one crewman seriously injured, and the Alaska Department of Law now pondering whether to file assault or other charges.
The weapons of choice in the case? 58-foot salmon seiners.
The alleged aggressor? One-time state ski racer Kami Cabana from Girdwood. She was at the controls of the F/V Chugach Pearl when it t-boned the F/V Temptation.
“I got really lucky when she hit me,” Temptation skipper Jason Long said in a telephone interview with craigmedred.news this week. There were davits fastened to the side of the Temptation where the Pearl struck amidships. They absorbed some of the impact of the ramming.
Had the Pearl hit just a little farther aft, Long said, it could have ruptured the Temptation’s fish hold and put his ship in serious danger. Had the Pearl hit just a little farther forward, it would have smashed the Temptation’s cabin.
Long said he wanted at first to think the collision an accident, but Cabana’s behavior afterward – with a Temptation crewman down on the deck and bleeding profusely – argued otherwise.
“It was just what she said after the collision,” Long said, “‘Get the fuck out of my way. I need to set my net.'”
Cabana could not be reached for this story.
A fishing family
The Cabanas – Kami,her dad Tim in Girdwood, uncle LeRoy now in Anchorage, and about a half-dozen other members of a big extended family – have run a Prince William Sound fishing fleet for decades. The family has roots in Alaska that date back to the 1950s.
Leroy’s wife, Doris, once described their business as the “Cabana Family Fishing Co-op.” A 2011 BBC documentary – “Arctic with Bruce Parry – featured the “Cabana family, which makes a fortune by fishing salmon three months a year in a smart, allegedly ecologically sustainable way.”
The description is about half right. The Cabanas are smart fishermen, but they are a lot more than that. Tim is a former chairman of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors and a builder. He is now working on the construction of a Girdwood brewery on property the Cabanas own in that community.
LeRoy, Tim and other family members helped build the Foothills Subdivision in Homer. They are a hard-working Alaska family that has made a lot of friends and a few enemies.
When the first report of the Chugach Pearl ramming the Temptation in the Sound’s Hidden Bay popped up on the website Deckboss.com in August under the headline “Gangster Fishing?”, the family took a fair bit of heat.
“…the cabanas being bullies again. wasn’t even open yet when she rammed him. Fishing aggressively is one thing but trying to sink someone’s boat and almost killing a crew member is unacceptable, that whole family should go to jail,” an anonymous poster said there.
But others came to the defense of the family.
The victim’s view
“I try to see both sides of everything,” said Long, who admits it was an unexpectedly tough season for seiners in the Sound due to a weak run of pink salmon. Approximately 41 million of the fish were projected to return this year, down from a record catch of 90 million in 2015.
Early in the season, though, it became obvious that even that projection was wildly optimistic. The actual harvest would eventually fall short of 9 million.
The weakness of the run was obvious early, and fishermen were on edge and possibly even more competitive than normal. The Cabana fleet was first into Hidden Bay for the Aug. 15 fishery opening.
They don’t, however, own the bay.
“This a common property fishery,” he said. “I’ve been anchored on fish before and had other boats show up. I’ve never rammed anyone.
“It’s not worth almost killing somebody over.”
If not for Kami’s behavior after the collision, Long said he’d tend to believe most of what happened stemmed from inexperience and the heat of the moment.
“It’s her second year running the boat,” he said. “We were all jockeying for position (before the opening). It was all the Cabanas teaming up against everyone else. I think her dad was telling her to ‘do whatever you need to do to keep him out of here.'”
When Long first noticed the Chugach Pearl, he said, “she was actually in reverse blocking another boat. Then she just gunned it.”
As the Pearl charged at him, he tried to get out-of-the-way but couldn’t. He expected Kami to throw her engines full reverse to slow her speed the way a jet airplane reverses engines on landing, but it never happened.
“She hit me full speed broadside,” he said. “She never throttled back. She just t-boned me.
“That’s when I was like ‘holy shit.’ This has really gotten serious. I don’t know how I stayed in my crow’s nest.”
Luckily, Long escaped without injury. A deck hand was not so lucky. The Pearl’s impact tore loose the exhaust stack on the Temptation and it fell and hit the crewman in the head. He suffered a concussion, Long said, and “cracked his head open.
“I limped out of there and called the Coast Guard.”
The crewman had to be evacuated by the Coast Guard and reportedly required 40 stitches to close his wounds. He’s still seeing a neurologist for treatment of symptoms related to the concussion, said Long, who admits to being troubled by the months that have passed since without any action on the part of the authorities.
“If you did this with your car, you’d be arrested on the spot,” he said. “She got to fish all season.
“The Cabanas have definitely got their connections. They’ve got a lot of money, influence.”
A dangerous precedent
The problem now, as Long sees it, is what happens if the state doesn’t take action.
“She did it intentionally,” he said. “She never backed off. She was just coming for me.”
Afterward, he said, the other Cabana boats, “they’re all cheering her on, hooting and hollering, and I’ve got a crewman with a cracked skull.
“If she gets away with this, what are the rules?”
Long said his insurance company is battling with the Cabana’s insurance company over whose responsible for the damages. How that works out could depend on whether charges are filed.
If something this blatant is ruled an accident, Long said, and Kami gets away with no more cost than the deductible on her insurance policy, he fears the new rules could become “ram away.”
“It’s awful,” he said, but if the cost of a deductible is less than the value of the fish to be caught it could make perfect economic sense to ram somebody.
“It’s sort of a free for all already,” he said, and ignoring what he considers a blatant ramming would only make that worse.
Two-sides to every story
Unfortunately, what was happening on the Chugach Pearl in the minutes and seconds before the collision remain at this point unknown. Kami Cabana isn’t talking. It’s possible, Long said that “she panicked and got pushed into it maybe.
“But she had no remorse at all. That’s what got me.
“She lawyered up right away,” never apologized, never tried to come to the assistance of the injured crewman, never tried to find out how badly he’d been hurt.
What was going on aboard the Temptation in the seconds and minutes before the crash is clearer because Long had a GoPro camera mounted above the deck and running.
Unfortunately, Alaska State Trooper Lt. Paul McConnell said, “it’s facing to the rear of the boat.”
The video shows the collision, but not the events leading up to the collision. McConnel refused to hazard a guess on whether the state’s Office of Special Prosecutions would decide to press charges.
“It’s kind of like a car accident,” he said. “Each (side) has their own side of the story.”
The Cabanas, he said, had been “forming the blockade, whatever you want to call it, and they had been there for three or four days” before Long showed up.
There are those in the Alaska commercial fishing business, which can be more than a little ruthless at times, who might argue that Long got what he deserved for trying to run a blockade. There are others, who share Long’s view that Alaska’s salmon remain a common-property resource, who will feel adamantly the other way.
It would be an interesting case to put to an Alaska jury.
CORRECTION: This story was edited on Sept. 14, 2016 to fix the attribution to Deckboss, which uses the URL – http://deckboss.blogspot.com/. The original story used attributed the information to Deckboss.com, which is the URL for a paint supplier.