Alaska Delegation Celebrates Ruling Upholding Southeast Troll Fishermen’s Summer Season

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski (both R-Alaska), and Representative Mary Sattler Peltola (D-Alaska), celebrated a decision yesterday by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granting a stay that allows Southeast Alaska troll fishermen to proceed with their July 1 season opener, in spite of an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Washington-based Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) that threatens the fishery. On May 3, a U.S. District Court in Seattle issued a ruling in favor of WFC. The fishermen, the State of Alaska, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit and requested a stay of the District Court ruling. The Alaska congressional delegation filed an amicus brief urging the Ninth Circuit to grant the stay, arguing the shutdown of the summer fishing season would be catastrophic to Southeast coastal communities and hard-working Alaska fishermen.

“This is great news for Southeast Alaska’s troll fishermen: The Ninth Circuit just granted a stay, allowing our fishermen to proceed with their scheduled July 1 season, in spite of the outrageous ongoing lawsuit filed by a radical Washington environmental group,” said Senator Sullivan. “My team and I have been focused like a laser for months to make sure our fishermen can fish. It’s frustrating that these Alaskans—who’ve done nothing wrong—have been left in limbo for weeks as their season opener approached, but I am thrilled the court heard our arguments, including those articulated in the amicus I led with my congressional delegation colleagues. Importantly, the court also listened to communities, local governments, tribes, and the State of Alaska, all of whom banded together to prevent the substantial economic hardships facing these Alaskans. This stay doesn’t mean the fight is over, but it will allow trollers to go fishing while we sort this out in court. It is patently ridiculous to believe a small boat, hook-and-line troll salmon fishery hundreds of miles away is having more of an impact on the sustainability of Puget Sound orca whales than the toxins, pollution, noise, and vessel traffic in their own back yard. With this victory, we will renew and continue our effort to defeat this misguided and manipulative lawsuit and continue defending the livelihoods of thousands of Alaska families in our coastal communities.”

“Yesterday’s ruling is a win for Southeast troll fishermen and their families, a win for Alaska’s fisheries, and a win for our coastal communities. The Ninth Circuit’s decision green-lighting a July 1 opener means Southeast troll fishermen can continue providing world-class seafood to the United States and the world,” said Senator Murkowski. “While we celebrate yesterday’s ruling, our Alaska delegation will continue to stand united with the State of Alaska and Alaska Trollers Association to fight for our small boat troll fishermen.”

“When Alaskans are kept from fishing, our communities suffer more than just job losses,” said Representative Peltola. “A lawsuit like this threatens the livelihoods and heritage of entire families, towns, and tribes in Southeast Alaska. This stay, which will enable the small boat king salmon troll fishery to continue while the case is argued in court, ensures that Southeast communities don’t lose even more precious time on the water. I am grateful to my Congressional delegation colleagues for presenting such a strong united front on this issue and leading with an amicus brief to show that we will not allow our fishing families to be intimidated by Outside environmental groups.”

The plaintiff in the case, WFC, argues 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.

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.

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 many others.

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