Alaska legislators on Monday passed the Defense of Alaska Fisheries Resolution, urging federal and state officials to continue to defend the state’s fisheries, including the Southeast Alaska troll fishery, and to do everything within their power to keep that fishery open.
House Joint Resolution 5, was introduced by Rep. Rebecca Himschoot, D-Juneau, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Seattle-based Wild Fish Conservancy, to halt the Southeast Alaska troll salmon fishery, in order to provide more fish for Southern Resident orca whales in Puget Sound. Participants in the fishery as well as legislators, said a closure would be devastating for the troll fleet and have a significant economic impact on the region.
Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, addressing participants in ComFish Alaska 2023 in Kodiak this past weekend, noted that the Southern Resident orcas are hundreds of miles away from the troll fishery and that the Alaska delegation has filed a brief challenging the lawsuit. “We will not let our Alaska small boat trollers be bullied,” Peltola said.
A recent report from a magistrate judge in Washington state recommended against allowing retention of king salmon during the winter and summer troll seasons in that fishery. A decision is pending in U.S. District Court.
“The resolution’s overwhelming bipartisan support shows the Wild Fish Conservancy that the state of Alaska is committed to continue defending the fishery,” Himschoot said. “I hope the Wild Fish Conservancy reconsiders pursuing this misguided lawsuit and instead starts addressing the factors impacting the Southern Resident Killer Whales in their own backyard.”
“The Southeast troll fishery has been sustainably managed for over 100 years, and it continues to be today, and I am thankful the legislature recognizes the importance of this resolution,” saidAmy Daugherty, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association. “I am shocked an outside group thinks it makes sense to manage a fishery, with over a hundred-year history, by lawsuit rather than sound science.”
The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association issued a statement in February urging the public to stand up for Southeast Alaska fishing families and contribute to the defense of the troll fleet. The lawsuit challenges a biological opinion written by National Marine Fisheries Service regarding the impact of Southeast Alaska fisheries on Washington’s Chinook salmon and the Southern Resident orcas.
“Fishing in Southeast Alaska not only provides thousands of jobs, but it’s also a way of life throughout the region,” said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, who carried the resolution in the senate, where it passed unanimously.
“Having the largest fleet of trollers in Southeast brings in business opportunities and extensive economic activity for these small communities,” Stedman said. “If our resources begin to be managed through lawsuits, we will lose the lifeblood of our communities. Alaskans know best how to manage our resources, and we’re fighting to ensure it stays that way.”
“I hope this serves as an important reminder that the legislature has no interest in allowing outside groups to stand in the way of hard-working Alaskans,” said minority leader Calvin Schrage, NP-Anchorage.
Trolling is a low barrier, sustainable fishery where fishermen from nearly all 33 communities in Southeast Alaska catch each fish with hook and line. State residents hold 85% of the permits. There are approximately 1450 trollers contributing over $85 million to the economies of coastal Alaska.