Alaska Delegation Condemns Court Ruling Against Southeast Troll Fishermen
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (both R-Alaska), and Representative Mary Sattler Peltola (D-Alaska), condemned a ruling by the U.S. District Court in Seattle, Washington in favor of a lawsuit filed by Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) that will effectively shut down a Southeast Alaska small boat troll salmon fishery. WFC argued that the Southeast Alaska salmon harvest is a primary contributor to the population decline of Southern resident killer whales hundreds of miles to the south in Puget Sound. On March 6, the Alaska congressional delegation filed an amicus brief supporting Southeast Alaska troll fishermen with the District Court. The District Court’s ruling upholds a December 2022 ruling by a Seattle-based magistrate judge that failed to consider other potential causes and the impacts of similar fisheries in Oregon and Washington.
“This is a disastrous decision for Southeast Alaska that will only serve to harm those small boat troll fishermen who are trying to provide for their families. This lawsuit should have been dismissed months ago, but now threatens devastating restrictions that will harm hundreds of Alaskans and dozens of coastal communities—all while doing nothing to actually benefit the Puget Sound orca population,” said Senator Murkowski. “Common sense and sound science must guide efforts to protect species. This uniquely awful decision blames Alaska for Washington’s problems, and suggests that an end to sustainable fishing in Southeast Alaska can cure decades of destructive environmental practices in Washington. If you want my ‘biological opinion,’ this is beyond ridiculous and cannot stand. The delegation will stand together, along with the State of Alaska, to fight this ruling.”
“That a federal judge in Washington State sided with radical environmentalists to shut down our state’s small boat, hook-and-line troll salmon fishermen is outrageous,” said Senator Sullivan. “What’s most remarkable about this case is that the judge and Wild Fish Conservancy totally ignore much more likely causes of the orca decline, like the toxins, pollution, noise disturbance, and vessel traffic that have undoubtedly wreaked havoc in the Puget Sound region. This is the latest example of how extreme environmental groups weaponize and abuse the Endangered Species Act to devastate Alaska’s small businesses and entire communities. I have already spoken with the NMFS Director to encourage her to vigorously fight this ruling on appeal and expeditiously complete an updated biological opinion so that our fishermen are not tied up at the dock this summer. I want our Southeast fishermen to know that we will continue to fight this irrational decision with everything in our power, and work to ensure Alaska’s hardworking fishing families can do what they do best—fish.”
"If this order is allowed to stand, Southeast Alaska will suffer a devastating loss, putting thousands of jobs at risk in communities that depend on this sustainably-managed fishery,” said Representative Peltola. “I will be joining the state of Alaska, NOAA, Alaskan fishermen, and other conservation groups who agree that this lawsuit is frivolous and incapable of protecting a whale population that faces much greater threats such as pollution and habitat loss in its home region near Seattle. I strongly support the Governor's movement to appeal this ruling and save the summer fishing season, and I encourage NOAA to complete an update to the Biological Opinion at the center of this case."
The court’s ruling today could shut down the Southeast Alaska salmon fishery and upset the careful balance struck between conservation, harvest-sharing, and promoting sustainable fisheries. A shutdown would be detrimental to Southeast coastal communities and hard-working Alaska fishermen.
In their amicus brief, the congressional delegation noted that Congress allocated millions of dollars in recent years for a hatchery-based “prey increase program” supporting Chinook salmon numbers to provide additional food sources for Puget Sound orcas and to offset any minimal impact caused by the Southeast troll fishery. Mitigation measures like the prey increase program are evaluated and accounted for when harvest limits are adopted by the binational Pacific Salmon Commission.
The State of Alaska and the Alaska Trollers Association are interveners in the lawsuit. On March 2, the Alaska House of Representatives passed a resolution urging state and federal agencies to defend the Southeast troll fishermen in court. The Alaska fishermen have also received resolutions of support from the City of Wrangell, the City of Sitka, and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, among others.