Fishing for felony

kami cabana

Kami Cabana/The North Face photo

Not often do Alaska’s notorious fish wars take a turn toward jail.

Usually they are the source of much stomping and snorting at public meetings, and maybe some gunwale banging at sea. Most often they feature angry set-gillnet fishermen snarling at anglers or troll fishermen ranting against purse seiners and drift gillnetters, or subsistence fishermen mad at everyone not a subsistence fishermen.

Rarely, almost never, do these battles turn violent.

Unprecedented is the only word to describe a violent encounter at sea that features as the villian a friendly young woman who stars in her own music video and is locally known for her prowess as a downhill skier.

And yet 27-year-old Kami Cabana – one-time ski protegé, one-time ski guide, one-time model for The North Face, and the skipper of the F/V Chugach Pearl – now faces felony charges of causing serious injury in an assault with a weapon – to wit the 58-foot Pearl.

Cabana is at the moment out on bail and scheduled for a pre-trial conference in Cordova on Tuesday. The victim of her attack, Gerald Cunningham of Cordova, is reported to have largely recovered from a concussion and head wounds he suffered after Cabana rammed the boat on which he was crew.

Cunningham was in the wrong spot aboard the F/V Temptation when Cabana allegedly went to ramming speed in Hidden Bay in Prince William Sound in August 2016.

Movie star again

Along with the state felony charges, Cabana is facing  a federal lawsuit the crew and owners of the Temptation filed against her and Jacob Wise, the skipper of a third seiner involved in the Hidden Bay fracas. That suit says all of Cabana’s actions were captured by a GoPro video camera high on the Temptation’s aft cabin.

The video shows both the F/V Silver Streak and F/V Chugach hitting the F/V Temptation…,” the suits says. “When the two vessels hit the F/V Temptation, the force of the collisions caused an exhaust stack of the Temptation’s port side engine to break loose and fall. The exhaust stack fell on…Cunningham, striking him in the head, causing serious injury.”

The blow knocked Cunningham out and left him bleeding on the deck of a badly listing Temptation, according to documents. 

The assault was first reported at in October 2016. Alaska Wildlife  Troopers said then that they were investigating the case, and Temptation skipper Jason Long admitted to being skeptical any charges would be filed.

The Cabanas are an influential fishing family in Girdwood, a ski resort community just east of Anchorage. The family’s Alaska roots date back to the 1950s, and they have run a Prince William Sound fishing fleet for decades.

One family member described the 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.”

Tim is a former chairman of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors and a builder. His most recent project was the new Girdwood Brewing Company, which went up on land owned by the Cabanas .


The battered Temptation

No holds barred

Other Sound fishermen say the Cabanas, male and female, have always been aggressive fishermen, but what happened in the Sound in August 2016 was without precedent. It is unclear if anyone involved in Alaska fishing has ever before been charged with using their boat as a dangerous weapon.

Kami could not be reached for comment.

Temptation skipper Long told in an interview that he actually thought the Chugach Pearl might have hit him accidentally until the bow of the boat piloted by Kami started sliding down out of the gash it had smashed into the side of the Temptation.

“It was just what she said after the collision,” Long said, “‘Get the fuck out of my way. I need to set my net.’”

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Alaska as an admiralty and maritime claim says that after the collision the Temptation began listing to starboard with the crew fearing she might founder. Instead of coming to the aid of the disabled ship, the suit says, the Pearl and the “F/V Arctic Pearl pulled up bow first along the port side of the F/V Temptation in a threatening manner.

“At no time did the F/V Chugach Pearl, the F/V Silver Streak (the boat commanded by Wise), or any other vessel operating in their group, offer to render assistance of any kind,” the suit says.  The Arctic Pearl is registered to Russell Cabana of Girdwood.

The suit filed by Long, his three crew and Temptation owners Herbert and Barbara Jensen of Cordova asks in excess of $700,000 in damages for injuries, loss of income, mental anguish and damage to the Temptation, which was put out of business for the rest of the 2016 fishing season.

The suit alleges a host of violations of international regulations governing safety at sea.

Wise, who struck the Temptation first in the aft starboard quarter, to set the boat up for the Chugach Pearl to t-bone it are accused of “failing to operate their vessels at a safe speed, failing to avoid collisions, failing to take actions to avoid collision, failing to give way or standby, failing to provide plaintiffs with a safe means through a narrow channel, and failing to render assistance after the collisions.”

All for a few fish

This real-life fish war, which fortunately didn’t get anyone killed, was fought primarily over pink salmon, the smallest of the Pacific salmon sometimes disparaged by Alaskans as “humpies” for the big humped back spawning males develop.

The least valuable of Alaska salmon, pinks return to the Sound in huge numbers that create value in quantity. Seiners in 2016 were looking forward to a big year. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecast a harvest of 41 million of the fish, but the salmon didn’t show.

The Northwest District of which Hidden Bay is part saw runs particularly weak and late. The eventual catch would end up at only 168,000 fish – a tiny fraction of the 1.4 milion caught in the same district last year. 

When the Temptation motored into long, narrow Hidden Bay “approximately 10 minutes prior to the 8 a.m. scheduled commercial seine opener,”  court documents say, the Cabanas were already set up for a showdown.

“….Cunningham observed the F/V Chugach Pearl and F/V Silver Streak blocking/holding vessels against opposite beaches,” the suit says. Plaintiff Jason Long, desiring to fish closer to the area around a waterfall at the end of Hidden Bay, ran his vessel in an open area of Hidden Bay in a safe and prudent manner; at all times taking into account applicable vessel navigation rules.”

His caution didn’t matter, the suit says.

“With plaintiff Jason Long at the wheel, the vessel motored through the open area and towards the area around the waterfall. While doing so, the F/V Temptation was struck hard on her aft starboard corner by the F/V Silver Streak.
“At virtually the same time that the F/V Silver Streak hit the F/V Temptation’s aft starboard corner, the F/V Chugach Pearl’s bow hit and collided with the F/V  Temptation’s port side mid-ship.”
Back in the fall of 2016, Long told he couldn’t quite believe what was happening. Right up until impact, he was expecting Kami to throw her engines hard reverse to brake the Chugach Pearl and avoid a collision.

Instead, he said, “she hit me full speed broadside. 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.”

Still, he sounded a little sympathetic toward Kami at the time.

“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.’”

It will be interesting to see how sympathetic an Alaska Court.









39 replies »

  1. (Note: This comment from Mark Swenson was edited to remove specific comments as to Jason Long’s medical history and speculation as to the extent of the drinking by him and others.)

    I am a long time aquantance with Jason Long, the skipper of the temptation, and I am life time Cordova fisherman.
    Over the last few years It is common knowledge that Jason has dealt with serious family and psychological issues.
    After the collision I overheard him talking at the Anchor bar that he was going to “teach that cunt a lesson” and show her that “fishing is a mans job”. He then stated that he was going to “sue her and never work again”. His group (had been drinking) so I’m not sure if it was his real thoughts or just the whisky talking.

    I wasn’t there at the accident so I have no idea what happened. I just think people should know there is always more to the story than they read. In the end lawyers will get rich and fisherman will get screwed.

    • Boy Mark, what a pile of horsechit you’ve given us here.
      The commentary you attribute to Jason Long doesn’t pass my smell test: For example “fishing is a man’s job” yet this incident really had nothing to do with “fishing.” Frankly the Cabanas seem to think they can keep the fishing for their own families (men or women) by their own unorthodox ramming techniques.
      I’m assuming you are interested in telling your tale to a judge and jury so be sure to get it straight. And we appreciate your opinion on the rest of the story, even though you have no idea what happened. By the way, what is “life time Cordova fisherman?”

    • I have never made those comments who ever you are, my wife fished also and I love woman in this industry. That’s bs man, anybody that knows me will tell you I’m not that person you just said I was. I don’t drink whiskey either. You are fishing here, I’m the first to admit my mistakes and what you said never happened.

    • And what psychological and family stuff are you talking about. I have been happily married and had have no drama going on. You are funny, obviously you are someone that doesn’t like me and that’s fine but don’t make shit up. I have been the only honest one in this case and have not bad mouthed kami. Man up and put your real name up here because you know me so well but I know no mark. Lifelong Cordovan, I don’t have that definition. But started fishing the sound in 89 at 15 years old. Long enough

    • Mark, if you really were a life time commercial fisherman out of Cordova you would be aware of the fact that Jason Long’s wife is a commercial fisher, has run her own boat, and that what your saying is totally implausible about “fishing being a man’s job.”

      • This is not he or shes name Mike, obviously someone that knows me but is hiding behind a fake name. I don’t have many people in Cordova that really dislike me but there are a couple, always is with a small town. I have a couple ideas who it is. There was more to it’s post but edited out. They know me and they are trying everything to do to bash me which is fine, but tell the truth. I’m not the person they are lying about, but makes for good entertainment for everyone. This state case is very important to every fisherman or fisher woman that makes a living here in Alaska. It’s going to set a precedent on what you can get away with and just pay a deductable to make a hell of a lot of money if it’s there. This gang mentality will ruin our fishery. What if there is 100k or more of fish sitting there and all you have to do is pay a deductable to ram boats out of the way. The state needs to get this right

  2. Guilty of ramming a boat yes! The boat exhaust failing down and causing injury would be accidental! So you think see looked at the exhaust and thought to herself hey if I hit this boat it will fall down and knock that guy out the injury caused is totally accidental was it called for no but that is how some of the Fisheries go

    • so let me get this straight: if i intentionally t-bone your car with my Ford F-250, and your head happens to bounce off the driver side window resulting in a traumatic brain injury, it’s not my fault because your scrambled brain resulted from your head accidentally impacting the window, which i didn’t mean to happen. have i got that right? i guess it’s sort of like firing a warning shot in your direction that accidentally hits you because my aim is bad. there’s no intent to harm; so there’s no crime.

      • I agree.
        My comment was just clowning. It does sound as if Jaf is serious about the idea of exhaust stack falling makes it an accident. Perhaps it came from an old Judge Judy episode.

      • You would think that the prosecution will look to prove negligence in her actions.
        I would think the key will be whether the Go Pro footage is deemed “admissible”.

    • after looking at the video the church pearls anchor was slack as to inflict damage. this was deliberate. had it been not and tangled in the temptations rigging, the anchor gear would have played out or the anchor winch itself would have turnout of the deck of the church pearl. both colliding boats are at fault and the temptations was definitely the victim. all this was reportedly orchestrated by the elder clan leader of the cabana gang. all members if their fishing room squad should all be charged as conspirators have them fined so bad they lose their fishing business as a lesson to all. after then share civil trial, this should be taken to a federal.level with coast guard action as all vessels involved are federally documented and federal law applies. SUE BIG, SETTLE HAPPY!!$$$.

  3. Odd… this “news” article shamelessly only told us one side of this story. It doesn’t even say they attempted to reach out to the other party. Congratulations – you just handed them ammo in their criminal and civil actions, fools.

    • “It was just what she said after the collision,” Long said, “‘Get the fuck out of my way. I need to set my net.’”
      The Court will allow her to square this statement with any defense she uses IMO. Of course the statement will need to be corroborated by other witnesses Scott, but in the “court of public opinion” Cabana has been found guilty IMO by her refusing aid to the vessel after the incident.

  4. Pull their permits confinscate their boats and gear and the money they made the rest of the season and bar them from any further commercial fisheries. Use them as an example that greed and lack of giving a crap about safety will not be tolorated. I would have different feelings if they had offered any assistance to the injured vessel…… but they didn’t and to me they have violated one of the most sacred laws of seamanship by doing nothing, thuggery plain and simple.

  5. civil court actions may prove very expensive. But this is not different than the use of a motor vehicle to attempt to run someone over. “Use of a deadly weapon” Police shoot people who try and run them down and are found not at fault when they kill them

    • Many of these boats have firearms on board and it’s lucky none were brought out in this situation IMO. I know of one situation, relative to gillnetters in PWS in the late 80s, where bumper boats took place and eventually a rifle came out and that ended the bumping of the boats. No shots were fired and no litigation resulted but that was just luck IMO.
      This situation could have very easily resulted in gunplay and, from the sounds of it, it could have been justified.

  6. through her ass in jail . who cares how long she and her family have been fishing our waters . they are our waters not hers and her families .

  7. “Jason:” if you’re reading, i’ll be happy to approve your comment and post if it if man up and send it from something other than a bogus hotmail account.

  8. I guess there is a reason it is called “Gunwale” after all…this part of the boat was originally called the “Gun Ridge” on warships.
    Maybe the future is destined to look a lot like the past?

  9. Anyone who knows about this family’s activities should not be surprised about Kami’s behavior. It is in the families DNA. It will be interesting to see what a Cordova jury made up mostly commercial fishing stakeholders will do with this case. If it were a local resident I would put my money in them finding her not guilty. If it was one of the Russian fishers, the jury would probably not have to even get seated in the deliberation room before they found the defendant guilty.
    Kami is very lucky that she did not kill someone. Very! Hopefully she will have to pay the price for her outrageous and violent conduct.

  10. Back in the 80s one gillnetter, on Copper River Flats, shot at another (who got in his space) with 22 caliber rifle. Bullet was removed from the fiberglass hull and it went to court. The shooter said he was shooting at a seal and he got off. I suspect these folks (Cabanas) to have their own side of story that they will be willing to tell in court.

    The difference, here, may hinge on the fact that there are other witnesses not willing to commit perjury.

    • Bill,
      I am wondering if Alaska’s “Stand Your Ground” laws apply to vessels that are operating in Alaskan Waters…especially if crew members on these boats are technically “at work” during these confrontations?

      • I don’t know, Steve. If such an issue were used, I suspect it would not be “filed in the U.S. District Court of Alaska as an admiralty and maritime claim,”

      • Not a lawyer, but as I understand it, Alaska law already covered most fishing boats, “propelled vessels,” as “buildings” and “premises” under the existing 11.81.335 exceptions to the Duty to Retreat. No “Stand Your Ground” needed. In any event, if you aren’t at the dock, “retreat with complete safety” would probably involve being able to drive away, because jumping overboard certainly isn’t an option in most cases.


        (b) A person may not use deadly force under this section if the person knows that, with complete personal safety and with complete safety as to others being defended, the person can avoid the necessity of using deadly force by leaving the area of the encounter,, except there is no duty to leave the area if the person is
        (1) on _premises_
        (A) that the person owns or leases;
        (B) where the person resides, temporarily or permanently; or
        (C) as a guest or express or implied agent of the owner, lessor, or resident;

        (3) in a _building_ where the person works in the ordinary course of the person’s employment; or

        From the Definitions:

        (49) “premises” means real property and any building;

        (5) “building”, in addition to its usual meaning, includes any propelled vehicle or structure adapted for overnight accommodation of persons or for carrying on business; when a building consists of separate units, including apartment units, offices, or rented rooms, each unit is considered a separate building;

        (50) “propelled vehicle” means a device upon which or by which a person or property is or may be transported, and which is self-propelled, including automobiles, vessels, airplanes, motorcycles, snow machines, all-terrain vehicles, sailboats, and construction equipment;

  11. This gets plead down in criminal court. If the video shows what the story indicates. Civil court will messy I’m sure.

    • Clear violations of the Nautical Rules of the Road. I would thing that the Coast Guard would have an interest in this case too.

      • It doesn’t say if any of the parties were licensed masters, not many commercial fishermen are. Rules of the Road might come into play for civil liability, but unless the parties are licensed, the USCG isn’t likely to have an interest. Then at most they’d might suspend somebody’s license for awhile.

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