Court allows Chinook salmon fishery season in Alaska for the summer

    The Alaska Trollers Association, along with the State, had appealed the Washington federal judge's order to close the Chinook salmon fishery as a measure to protect the local killer whale population.


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    “We fish!” celebrated the Alaska Trollers Association, after learning that the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals halted the implementation of a U.S. District Court decision that would have shut down the Chinook fishery in Southeast Alaska. The action taken by the court in response to a petition by the ATA itself and the State of Alaska allows trollers to fish during the summer. It comes at exactly the right time, just a few days before the scheduled opening of the Chinook salmon fishing season on July 1.

    Extensive evidence for keeping the fishery open

    Back in 2020, the Washington nonprofit Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) – also known for its support of Washington State Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz in her decision to ban commercial finfish net pen aquaculture in the state – sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) alleging various violations of the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Their main claim was that the Chinook troll fishery – also known as king salmon -, harmed a population of 73 endangered killer whales living off the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

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    Against that, Alaska argued that the Southeast commercial Chinook troll fishery has little effect on listed species. “Shutting down the Southeast Alaska salmon fisheries would have negligible, if any, impact on the Southern Resident Killer Whale, as any Chinook not caught in Southeast must travel some 700 miles past Canadian commercial and recreational fisheries, tribal fisheries, Northern Resident Killer Whale, and Steller sea lions, which are also predators of large Chinook, and Southern U.S. fisheries to reach the Southern Resident Killer Whale,” they stated last May when announcing the appeal solved now.

    In this new sentence, the court has ruled that U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones erred in upholding a previous magistrate’s ruling in adopting, in part, a report and recommendation vacating the incidental take statement (ITS) for the Southeast Alaska commercial winter and summer chinook troll fishery. The practical effect of their decision was that, until the establishment of a new ITS, the fishery was closed.

    Now, the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals finds that the State of Alaska and the Alaska Trollers Association have presented extensive evidence demonstrating that the impacts of closing Alaska’s salmon fishing industry “outweigh the speculative environmental threats” of keeping the fishery open. The decision allows trollers to fish effectively on July 1.

    Huge relief for small-boat fishing families

    “This has been an extremely challenging time for all of us,” said Amy Daugherty, Executive Director of the Alaska Trollers Association. “But thankfully, with the State’s help and the Tribes recent declarations and our delegation, we have alerted the court to the disastrous consequences of a summer in SE without trolling.” In its fight against the previous ruling, the ATA was supported not only by many trollers and their supporters, and the State, but also by the coalition of Southeast Alaska Tribes, and the Congressional Delegation.

    “The court’s decision is a huge relief for hundreds of small-boat fishing families that rely on this fishery for their income,” said the Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Linda Behnken. “We are relieved that the court followed the well-documented science establishing that Southeast Alaska’s troll fishery is not a threat to the Southern Resident Killer Whale population and that shutting down the fishery would do more harm than good.”

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    “The outpouring of support for Alaska’s salmon troll fishery through this ordeal has been heartening,” she added. “Alaska definitely had our back. We have more work ahead to successfully conclude this lawsuit and to restore Washington’s salmon habitat, but today we are celebrating–and getting ready to go fishing!” Behnken concluded.

    For his part, Doug Steding, an attorney for ATA, said he was grateful that the 9th Circuit recognized “the overwhelming impacts that the district court’s ruling would have on the residents of Southeast Alaska.” Meanwhile, Jeff Farvour, commercial fisherman and board member for both the Alaska Trollers Association and the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association said, “We are deeply grateful for the countless hours and hard work that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, National Marine Fisheries Service, and Alaska Trollers Association have put into defending our fishery from Wild Fish Conservancy’s reckless lawsuit.”

    Great news for Alaska and Southeast

    Farvour, who extended his thanks to Alaska’s Congressional Delegation, the State Legislature, Southeast Alaska tribes, communities, and conservation groups, claimed that “Thanks to them […] we can go fishing this summer.” On the State’s side, there is also satisfaction with the ruling, and the Governor of Alaska, the Attorney General, and the Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game have also joined in the celebration and gratitude.

    “The 9th Circuit got it right when it found that Alaska’s fishing interests outweighed the ‘speculative environmental threats.’ There’s a gauntlet of obstacles before the Chinook reach our fishery,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy. “The ruling comes just in time so that our commercial troll fishers in Southeast have a season. And we are grateful for it.”

    “This is great news for Alaska and Southeast,” stated Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor. “The 9th Circuit recognized the absurdity of closing down a vital economic industry for an issue that is already being remedied by the federal government. Thanks to the 9th Circuit, fishing season is on come July 1.”

    “We are pleased that the 9th Circuit agreed to allow the Southeast Alaska troll fisheries to operate this season. We are incredibly proud of the coalition formed to defend our fisheries. I want to thank all involved,” added Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Doug Vincent-Lang.

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