Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Ship cancels Chilkat Inlet sailing after fishermen protest


September 19, 2019

The Norwegian Joy sailed into Chilkat Inlet as gillnetters scrambled to get out of the way last Tuesday, Sept. 10. Photo Courtesy of Judy Hall Jacobson.

A cruise ship sailing north up the Chilkat Inlet last Tuesday roiled fishermen as about 25 gillnetters were forced to pull their nets and get out of the way of the oncoming vessel whose pilot refused to stop. While the ship had planned to sail again this Tuesday to the same area, the outcry from fishermen discouraged the return trip.

"They heard the fisherman and they talked with their main office and they're trying to find a different scenario," said Haines port agent for Cruise Line of Alaska Leslie Ross.

According to Coast Guard Sector Juneau employee Scott Cichoracki, fishing vessels have the right of way when engaged in fishing. "When a fishing vessel is engaged in fishing they have the right of way over a power driven vessel, regardless of size," Cichoracki said.

"It was insanity," F/V Lookout captain Karl Johnson told the CVN of last week's kerfuffle. "The pilot had the opportunity to turn away and she chose not to and instead chose to bully her way through the fleet."

Johnson said after the Norwegian Joy's pilot Joan Sizemore informed fishermen of her intent to travel up the inlet, she was answered by three vessel operators including Johnson who said that the area was crowded with actively fishing gillnetters, and that it would be unsafe to travel through the area.

"She informed us that she would slow down to ten knots," Johnson wrote in a letter to multiple local and state agencies, and to cruise industry representatives. "Fortunately, no collisions occurred during the transit, but at one time a gillnetter had to turn loose of the end of his net when the ship came within twenty feet of his twenty-eight foot long boat."

Johnson said fishermen lost time and income as a result of the cruise ship's passage.

Sizemore said she was running the ship toward Davidson and Rainbow glaciers so passengers could have a sightseeing opportunity. She said she was also surprised to see so many fishing vessels. "I talked to one of the tenders and asked what the fishing situation is," Sizemore said on her way up Lynn Canal. "They said 'Oh it's a desert out there.' I took that to mean there weren't many boats."

The fleet later received an email from United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters executive director Max Worhatch who informed them that another ship was scheduled to take the same route Tuesday, Sept. 17.

Worhatch told the CVN that the ship was scheduled to view glaciers near Holcomb Bay, but in the fading September light, it's getting too dark to leave the fjord to accommodate its schedule. "They decided to go into Chilkat Inlet...instead," Worhatch said. "It was decided on Monday morning, is what I was told. By Tuesday they were there. Nobody really knew it was going to happen."

Steve Fossman was one of the dozens of fishermen who had to pull his net. He was working on deck and didn't hear the cruise ship informing fishermen of its route on his radio. He said he hopes the ship's travel doesn't set a precedent.

"The fact that one was coming in there, in general, was a surprise," Fossman said. "I feel like a working relationship would be if there's a commercial fishery in the Chilkat Inlet that they don't go through there. It displaces us. It's a very tight area, but it's a historical fishing area."

On Tuesday morning, Johnson was unaware that the ship wouldn't be returning to the Chilkat Inlet until the CVN informed him. "Well how about them apples," Johnson said. "Will wonders never cease?"

Sizemore said the company applied for permits to go to Glacier Bay, where it will soon take its passengers. "It's not going to be a routine thing. It was just a stop gap. The Davidson and the Rainbow (glaciers) are really not much to look at. They just didn't have another place to go. That's a problem that we're going to see with more cruise ships coming up, we're running out of destinations."

*This story has been updated to reflect updated information. A previous version of this story quoted a local Fish and Game Biologist citing that larger vessels have the right of way. That's untrue when fishing vessels are engaged in fishing.


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