Appeal filed in Cook Inlet fisheries management lawsuit


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In this August 8, 2012, file photo, commercial setnet fishers pick a net during a calm day in Cook Inlet. A group representing setnetters is appealing a Superior Court decision that upheld the state’s salmon management in 2013. The Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund sought a court order to force ADFG to provide additional fishing hours last summer. A judge ruled against the group on June 2.

Photo/Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion

The Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund is appealing the court decision that upheld the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s 2013 management of Cook Inlet salmon fisheries.

The fisherman’s fund, or CIFF, filed an appeal with the Alaska Supreme Court June 10, according to CIFF attorney Bruce Weyhrauch.

Next the record in the case must be prepared, and a transcript of the proceedings provided to the court, and then CIFF can file its opening brief.

CIFF sued the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in July 2013, asserting that fisheries managers did not follow Cook Inlet salmon management plans appropriately that year and caused harm to commercial fishermen.

After hearing oral argument May 29, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Andrew Guidi granted the state’s motion for summary judgment on June 2. He wrote in his final decision that there was no evidence that ADFG had “exceeded its authority in executing the emergency plan promulgated by the Alaska Board of Fisheries. Specifically, the fund has failed to articulate any concrete way in which the department overstepped its management authority other than the claim — already rejected on motion for preliminary injunction — that the fund’s fishermen were entitled to 51 hours of extra fishing time by law.”

Weyhrauch listed seven points of appeal in the Supreme Court filing, asserting that the court erred at each step of the way, including when it granted ADFG’s motion for summary judgment and denied CIFF’s request for injunctive relief, constitutional claims, tort claims and discovery.

ADFG asked for summary judgment upholding its interpretation of the management plans in December, which was the focus of oral argument May 29.

CIFF opposed the request for summary judgment, and asked the judge to allow discovery so that more details about the 2013 management could be brought to light.

CIFF President John McCombs said that discovery would have helped his group — and the court — figure out what was going on with management last summer.

ADFG is responsible for day-to-day management of Cook Inlet salmon fisheries, while the Board of Fisheries approves the overarching management plans and makes allocative decisions for the fisheries.

In recent years, the department has been tasked with conserving Kenai River king salmon, which have had particularly low returns, while allowing opportunities to harvest Kenai River sockeyes, which are plentiful.

CIFF had said that the eastside setnet fleet was harmed when ADFG limited fishing time to conserve king salmon. The setnetters primarily target sockeyes, but also catch kings.

Last summer, CIFF asked for a preliminary injunction requiring Fish and Game to follow certain aspects of the Cook Inlet salmon management plans, and both sides argued the case in Anchorage Superior Court.

Guidi ruled that the injunction was not necessary, in part because a remedy was available if he later determined that managers had erred, and in part because he would simply be substituting the court’s judgment for the managers’ if he ruled in favor of changing their practices. Guidi referenced that decision in his order supporting ADFG’s motion for summary judgment.

CIFF, along with the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, has also challenged the federal decision that formally removed Cook Inlet from the federal salmon fishery management plan, eliminating the potential for federal oversight. That lawsuit is currently working its way through federal District Court in Anchorage; oral argument was heard May 26, and parties filed additional briefs in June. A decision is pending.

McCombs said previously that the June 2 Superior Court ruling was a disappointment.

“I just don’t think the Department of Fish and Game did their job when it came to managing the fishery,” he said.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

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