Southeast Alaska trollers engaged in a fight to continue winter and summer commercial Chinook salmon fisheries say they have reduced their king harvest by 44% over the past four decades and remain concerned about the future sustainability and recovery of the species in Washington state.
The Wild Fish Conservancy in Seattle contends that halting the winter and summer commercial Chinook harvest in Southeast Alaska would benefit the Chinooks and the Southern Resident killer whales, for whom Chinook salmon are a major food source.
“Science tells us though that cutting harvest is not going to be enough to restore Washington’s local Chinook populations and it will do nothing to help Southern Resident killer whales,” said Amy Daugherty, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association. “(The whales) are threatened by urbanization, toxic water pollutants, and noise disturbance. The Chinook are threatened by impassable dams and habitat damage.”
“If the (Wild Fish Conservancy) really wanted to do something positive for the (Southern Resident killer whales) and Chinook, they would join forces with our small boat fishermen rather than try to eliminate one of the salmon’s most important allies and stewards,” Daugherty said.
Other Southeast Alaska communities with small boat commercial fishermen have come out in support of the Alaska Trollers Association, including City of Pelican, Alaska Mayor Patty Phillips.
“The potential implications of this decision for fishing villages like Pelican and the entire Southeast region are massive,” she said.
A report and recommendation released on Dec. 13 by U.S. Magistrate Michelle L. Peterson for the U.S. Western Washington District Court proposed temporarily vacating the incidental take statement that allows Southeast Alaska’s troll fishery to harvest Chinook year-round. That opinion was hailed by the Wild Fish Conservancy as a landmark decision to terminate unsustainable commercial salmon harvest until new environmental review of those fisheries occur.
Peterson also found the federal government’s biological opinion in the matter to be inadequate and that it should be remanded back to NOAA for the National Marine Fisheries Service to address violations of environmental law.
The Alaska Trollers Association contends that the proposed remedy punishes the trollers for mistakes made by Marine Fisheries Service, which is currently working on revising its biological opinion, including the incidental take statement. A biological opinion is a document required under the Endangered Species Act that states the opinions of a federal agency as to whether certain actions are likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or resolve in destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.
The Trollers Association contends that the magistrate court improperly concluded that the declarations of two Southeast Alaska fishery and economics experts were not admissible and accepted the Wild Fish Conservancy’s request to strike the information they had provided. The Trollers Association has requested Judge Jones consider the dismissed declarations as he evaluates the organization’s objections.
The Alaska Trollers Association also argues that the magistrate’s recommendations contradict the Marine Fisheries Service conclusion that the incidental take statement would not “appreciably reduce the likelihood of both survival and recovery of Southern Resident killer whales or destroy or adversely modify their designated critical habitat.”