Inlet drift fishermen file suit over salmon management

PORTLAND, Ore. — United Cook Inlet Drift Association and Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund filed suit in District of Columbia District Court Jan. 18 over the transfer of salmon management from federal authorities to the State of Alaska.

The drift association, or UCIDA, and fishermen’s fund, or CIFF, filed the suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, on behalf of Cook Inlet fishermen, their families and employees.

The drift association includes driftnet fishermen, processors and others involved or interested in Cook Inlet fisheries. The fishermen’s fund includes commercial fishermen of various gear types, and others interested in fisheries.

The lawsuit alleges that moving Cook Inlet salmon fisheries into state management violated the Magnuson Stevens Act, or MSA, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. According to the plaintiffs, declining salmon runs in Cook Inlet are the result of State of Alaska management actions, and evidence that the state is not upholding the Magnuson Stevens requirements for fishery management.

Alaska has managed its own salmon fisheries since 1959.

In December 2011, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council unanimously voted to officially have Alaska Department of Fish and Game manage Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and Alaska Peninsula salmon fisheries, and note that in the federal fishery management plan, or FMP.

The salmon FMP for federal waters offshore from Alaska was then revised to reflect that change in jurisdiction. The FMP is required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The final rule implementing that change was published in the federal register in December 2012, effective Jan. 22.

According to the lawsuit, the state generally followed the MSA for salmon management until 1990, but began transitioning to other focuses in 1996. The lawsuit claims the Sustainable Salmon Fisheries Policy implemented in 2000 to ensure the long-term viability of salmon has led the state away from decisions that uphold the MSA standards for management.

The drift association has been vocal about its issues with the transfer for several years, and testified about the issue to the North Pacific council when it was discussing the FMP.

UCIDA sued NMFS over Cook Inlet salmon management in 2009, and was part of a lawsuit against the state Board of Fisheries in 2011.

In the lawsuit, UCIDA says that even if Cook Inlet salmon runs were performing better, the state should only be in charge of day-to-day management, not the overall FMP.

“Some people say (that we want) federal management of the fisheries,” said David Martin, UCIDA president. “No, that’s not it at all, but we want oversight because the state is not doing their job. Even though they say they’re doing their job, they’re not. That’s why we’ve been fighting them.”

The administrative record is due in March.

NMFS is also a defendant in a lawsuit over the new marine observer program, which went into effect Jan. 1. Producing the administrative record for that suit is expected to take significant staff time, although NMFS did receive permission to file it electronically.

NOAA General Counsel Lisa Lindeman said Feb. 6 at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Portland that both lawsuits are taking up a significant amount of time for NOAA counsel. The same is likely true for NMFS staff.

Judge Reggie B. Walton is presiding over the case.

Peninsula Clarion reporter Rashah McChesney contributed to this report.

Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected].

02/14/2013 - 8:46am