Jury convicts man of illegally guiding in 2017

A man accused of guiding fishing clients illegally on the Kenai River in 2017 was convicted in June.

A jury in Kenai found William Hollandsworth of the Soldotna area guilty on a number of counts related to taking people fishing on the Kenai River in exchange for payment without a permit. The incidents listed in the charges go back as far as May 2017; the state charged Hollandsworth in August 2017.

The trial in Kenai went on for several days and included testimony from two people who said they paid Hollandsworth to go fishing. He said the people he took fishing were acquaintances or friends and the money they paid was reimbursement for gas, tackle and food. Each of the clients said they paid between $225–$300 for the fishing trip and did not know Hollandsworth as a friend before going fishing with him. He does not currently have a Kenai River sportfishing guide license.

Kenai River guides are required to pay a fee and take a week-long class called the Kenai River Guide Academy before guiding on the river. The regulations on the Kenai River are extensive for guides, with particular days blocked out and guides only allowed on the water between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., among other safety and documentation requirements.

The Alaska Department of Parks and Outdoor Recreation heard about the potential violation from other river users and investigated in July 2017. Once the initial investigation was complete, Parks and Outdoor Recreation worked with the Alaska Department of Law to prosecute it. Kenai area Parks and Outdoor Recreation Supervisor Jack Blackwell gave credit to the Department of Law for pursuing the charges.

“I think it’s fair to say that this particular case took a fair amount of resources to investigate, and I think that’s the case for a lot of cases of illegal guiding,” Blackwell said.

He added that most of the guides operating on the Kenai River are doing so legally and ethically.

The prosecutors had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hollandsworth was being paid for sportfish guiding, which he said throughout the trial was not the case. Prosecutor Aaron Peterson with the Office of Special Prosecutions — which handles environmental cases — said there are exceptions for people accepting payment related to gas, food and bait.

During the trial, he asked Park Ranger Tom Anthony how much a tank of gas for a boat during a six-hour day of fishing cost. Anthony answered that it would cost about $25.

“It’s probably relatively self-explanatory that $250 per seat is more than you’ll need for fuel,” Peterson said in an interview.

According to the court transcripts from the trial, a witness said Hollandsworth identified himself as a guide to someone who he later took fishing and that he instructed the person on how to fish and piloted the vessel. Another witness said they fished after 6 p.m. and Hollandsworth did not require that a client immediately record a king salmon and stop fishing for the day, which is required on the Kenai River.

During his own testimony, Hollandsworth told the court he moved back to the Kenai Peninsula in 2014 from the Lower 48 and intended to start a backcountry guiding business but was specific with people he took fishing that he was not guiding. He said the people he took fishing were friends who wanted to help cover the cost.

Peterson said it’s not uncommon for the state to prosecute guiding cases indicated to be illegal. The state statutes are fairly clear requiring guides to have a license, and there wasn’t anything particularly more burdensome to try to prove about this case, Peterson said.

“As with any criminal case, we have to prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt,” Peterson said in an interview. “Something that was an issue here was whether or not there was compensation for the guiding.”

All the charges the state levied were misdemeanors. Hollandsworth’s sentencing is scheduled for July 30 in Kenai.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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