March 14, 2023
Message from ATA President Matt Donohoe
When the self-serving, opportunistic, serial litigant Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) first brought suit in 2020 to close our Southeast Alaska (SEAK) hook and line troll fishery the world seemed allied against us. Even here, in our home waters, local media gave serious consideration to the bizarre and scientifically unfounded claims of that eternally fund-raising organization. But things have changed.
Thanks to a joint effort with ALFA, ATA has obtained resolutions from every major SE AK community – from Ketchikan to Yakutat – in support of our family-oriented small boat fishery. And most of these communities have contributed to ATA’s Legal Fund. We’ve been making as much noise as possible. At the time of this writing, House Joint Resolution 5, sponsored by Rep. Himschoot of Sitka is approaching its final vote on the Senate floor. There has been little resistance to HJR 5, and legislators seem appreciative to learn about troller’s predicament.
In further solidarity, our entire Alaska Congressional Delegation, has filed an Amicus Brief with the court. We are truly moved and appreciate their willingness to stand up for us on this issue. (Special thanks to Carina on this.)
Fundraising has been largely successful as well and we are extremely thankful for each and every donation towards keeping our livelihood through the expensive legal process. All contributions to our legal fund are kept in our Legal Fund bank account, a separate account from ATA’s operating account.
We still wait for Judge Jones’s decision in the Western Washington District Court on the possible closure of the Summer and Winter troll seasons but feel well-armed to enter an appeal, if necessary. And we will not be alone: Governor Dunleavey publicly committed to pursue the WFC fight, even to the Supreme Court if necessary, on Alaska Public Radio’s statewide program Talk of Alaska.
As I said, things have changed in our corner of the world and the single biggest reason for all of this support is you, our members… So thank you and we hope to see you on the grounds this year.
LAWSUIT UPDATE: From Alaska Trollers Association and Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association
February 18, 2023
Dear Fishermen and other Friends,
The last few months have been a wild ride and we are currently in “wait and see” mode as the U.S. District Court decides whether there will be a winter and summer troll Chinook fishery this year. Thanks to you and your help, ATA and ALFA have been able to rally an amazing outpouring of supportive letters, resolutions, and donations from communities, fishery organizations, aquaculture associations as well as our elected officials in Washington D.C. and the Alaska State Legislature. Below is a recap of some of our recent milestones, including a full list of supporters.
In addition, ATA and ALFA have also been busy educating the public, decision-makers, and others about the potential impacts of this lawsuit and the real issues that are impacting wild salmon and orca populations in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., habitat loss, dams, urbanization, toxic water pollution, vessel traffic). Below are some ways you can be involved in this work whether it’s sending a letter to your members of Congress, submitting a letter to your local paper, or sharing your story on social media. It’s all hands-on deck as we work to safeguard the future of our industry and the wild salmon that we all depend on
Thanks again for your help building the recent groundswell of support – we couldn’t have done it without you. We are in this fight for the long-haul and we hope you are, too.
Amy Daugherty and Linda Behnken (ATA/ALFA Leadership)
WFC lawsuit -background and status:
In 2020, the Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) filed a lawsuit that challenges the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) 2019 Biological Opinion (BiOp) that provides Endangered Species Act (ESA) coverage to salmon and marine mammal populations, alleging that Southeast Alaska’s troll fishery is contributing to the decline of the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW). On April 16, 2020, WFC filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that sought an order that would remove ESA coverage for all commercial salmon fisheries in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Southeast Alaska. ATA intervened in the lawsuit immediately and helped to defeat that request.
While ATA and the United States won in response to this initial challenge seeking to shut down Southeast Alaska’s commercial fisheries in 2020, ultimately the court sided with WFC on many of its claims. In response to the legal challenge, a federal district court judge issued an order granting the WFC’s motion for summary judgment – i.e., the judge reached a decision without a formal trial.
The takeaway from the Judge’s order on summary judgement is that NMFS needs to revise the BiOp to better document how the hatchery or prey increase program (that is producing Chinook for the orca to eat) offsets any impact associated with the Alaska fisheries. The judge also found NMFS out of compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in their issuance of an Incidental Take Statement (ITS) for the fishery. The ITS allows a fishery or other impact to occur despite the potential for the fishery to “take”—or impact– an endangered species.
WFC next argued that until NMFS finishes revising the BiOP and completes the NEPA process for the ITS, the ITS for the Southeast Alaska troll fishery should be vacated along with the ITS for the hatchery or prey enhancement program. In other words, the WFC urged the judge to shut down Southeast Alaska’s troll fishery as well as the hatcheries that are providing supplemental Chinook salmon for the SRKW. The Defendants (the Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce/NMFS) and the Defendant Intervenors (Alaska Trollers Association and the State of Alaska) argued against vacating the ITS, allowing ESA coverage to continue, while NMFS works on revising the BiOp.
After considering both arguments, on December 13, 2022, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michelle Peterson issued a report and recommendation (R&R) and proposed order. The Magistrate recommended (1) the Biological Opinion be sent back to NOAA /NMFS to remedy any ESA and NEPA violations, (2) vacating the portions of the BiOp that authorize “take” of SRKW and Chinook salmon resulting from commercial harvests of Chinook during the winter and summer troll fisheries, and (3) leaving the SRKW hatchery prey production program in place. Translation: Judge Peterson proposed that NOAA fix any violations to the ESA and NEPA and in the meantime Southeast Alaska’s winter and summer troll fisheries be shut down but the hatchery prey production program continue to operate.
What now and what’s next?
On January 10th of this year, the lawsuit Defendants (NMFS, ATA, State of Alaska) filed objections to Magistrate Peterson’s December R&R Judgement. WFC then responded to the Defendant’s Objections. The case is still active but is now in Judge Richard Jones’ court and we are awaiting his decision. There is no deadline for Judge Jones’ decision – it could come tomorrow or next year.
The NMFS West Coast Region does not expect to complete their revisions to the prey enhancement BiOp until fall 2024. The NMFS Alaska is working on an accelerated schedule to revise the BiOp for the Southeast fisheries and issue a new ITS this spring, which would provide the coverage the fishery needs to open. Releasing the BiOp and ITS for the Southeast fisheries before the Washington prey enhance BiOp is complete requires NMFS and Department of Justice approval. As far as we know, the Department of Justice has not yet said yes or no, but the NMFS Alaska Region is forging ahead while continuing to work to secure approval.
Despite all the speculation, it remains unclear what this lawsuit might mean for this year’s chum and coho troll fisheries.
While we await a decision, we are working to build financial reserves for ATA to fight this lawsuit to a positive outcome. ALFA, ATA, Salmon State, and others are also working to educate the public on the real threats facing Puget Sound orca and salmon populations and the troll fishery’s continued stewardship of the natural resources that our bottom lines depend on. We will continue our media and public outreach with press releases around key decision points and opinion pieces and letters to the editor in Alaska and Northwest outlets.
February 5th – Alaska US Senator Dan Sullivan shared his support for Southeast’s trollers on his official Facebook page, stating “I support the hard work being done to ensure the independent fishermen of Alaska’s troll fishery are able to continue operating for the good of our coastal economies.”
February 14th – The Alaska House Fisheries Committee held a special hearing to discuss the WFC lawsuit and passed House Joint Resolution 5 in support of protecting Southeast’s troll fishery. The Resolution, which was introduced by freshmen legislator Rebecca Himshoot, will now head to the State Senate and be voted on in the coming weeks.
February 14th – The Sitka Assembly voted to donate $25,000 for ATA’s Legal Fund.
Other communities and associations that have lent support to Southeast trollers through letters, resolutions and legal fund donations (as of Feb. 17) include: Southeast Conference, United Fishermen of Alaska, United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Association, Southeast Alaska Seiners Association, City of Pelican, City of Craig, Port Alexander, Ketchikan, Yakutat, Seafood Producers Cooperative, Sitka Sound Seafoods, SSRAA, AKI, and the Whatcom County Working Waterfront Coalition. The communities of Petersburg, Juneau and Wrangell also have resolution of support in the works.
Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (www.alfafish.org/wfclawsuit)
- Sign a letter to your members of Congress and state and federal decision-makers, urging them to do everything they can to keep our fisheries open.
- Make a contribution to ATA’s Legal Fund. Every dollar makes a difference and is an investment in your livelihood.
- Share your salmon story and be an ambassador for the troll fishery! SalmonState is collecting trollers’ stories to share over social media and other media outlets. Contact Heather Bauscher (email@example.com) or Mary Catharine Martin (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information and to coordinate.
Quick stats about the troll fishery that you can help us amplify:
- The troll fleet is the second largest fleet in Alaska and the largest fleet in Southeast Alaska with 85% of permit holders residing in Southeast Alaska.
- The troll fishery provides an entry level opportunity due to its affordability when compared to other fisheries in Alaska. As a result, there are troll permits housed in virtually every community in Southeast Alaska.
- Approximately 1,450 fishermen earn income directly from the fishery, including skippers (permit holders) and crew.
- The troll fishery provides more jobs for Alaskan residents than any other fishery and is especially important to those who live in smaller, remote communities; roughly one of every 50 people in Southeast Alaska works on a trolling boat.
- Trolling is essentially a year-round salmon fishery, providing fishermen with year-round revenue and high quality fresh fish to markets during months when fresh salmon is not typically available.
- The troll fishery has operated for more than 100 years, which is a testament to its sustainable fishery management and Alaska’s commitment to the Pacific Salmon Treaty which sets strict annual harvest limits that are carefully managed by Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
- The Southeast troll fishery is consistently in the top 3 most valuable fisheries in Southeast with a 5-year average ex-vessel value of $30M.
- Including fishing, processing, and all related multiplier effects, the troll fleet has a total economic impact in Southeast Alaska of approximately $85 million annually; 44% of that $85 million is derived from Chinook harvest.
- Each king salmon is worth more than a barrel of oil.
- Maintaining access to this fishery is critical for the well-being and continued diversification in Southeast Alaska’s economy. The troll fishery is a lifeline for rural livelihoods across this region where hundreds of small-boat fishermen take great pride in the high-quality product they provide to consumers across America.