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 craigmedred.news 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 .
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 craigmedred.news 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.
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.