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Sitka Assembly approves $25K to fight suit that shuts down king salmon fishery

Sitka Assembly approves K to fight suit that shuts down king salmon fishery
(Photo by Rachel Waldholz / KCAW)

The Sitka Assemblyman is moving forward with plans to donate $25,000 to the Alaska Trawlers Association, which hopes to shut down commercial fishing for king salmon in Southeast Alaska, to support its ongoing legal battle against a Washington environmental group Is. And other organizations and locals are piling up in anticipation of a long — and expensive — appeals process.

Alaska Trollers and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game intervened in a lawsuit in 2020 against the National Marine Fisheries Service brought by the Wild Fish Conservancy. Duvall, a Washington-based group, argues that commercial trolling in Alaska threatens endangered populations of killer whales. Puget Sound deprived them of king salmon โ€“ their primary food source. And they’ve been successful in court: In December a US District Court judge issued a report that, to cut a long story short, Southeast king salmon fisheries are at risk of closure. And that means a big hole in the Troll Association’s pocket, as it expects a lengthy appeals process.

In early January, trollers drummed up support at the assembly table. And at its January 24 meeting, more people came out of the woodwork in support of the organization. Roger Hems of the Hems Corporation, which owns a major grocery store in Sitka, said he was asked to contribute $5,000 but would likely contribute $10,000. Tad Fujioka is the Chairman of the Board of the Seafood Producers Co-op. He said the Alaska Trawlers Association had requested about $48,000 from SPC, but employees asked them to donate more money from their profit-sharing pool.

โ€œSo even though the ATA only asked for $48,500, the SPC board voted to contribute $59,000. This is an investment in the future of our company. We cannot afford to lose access to troll salmon. Sitka,โ€ Fujioka said. โ€œSo I encourage the gathering to be equally visionary, and make this investment alongside our citizen fishermen.โ€

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And Jackie Foss said it’s not just fishermen who have contributed to the Trollers’ cause: The Trollers Association is getting a lot of individual donations, and contributions from municipalities like Craig, Port Alexander and Pelican.

โ€œI feel so grateful to live in a place where everybody rallies around small boat fishermen. And so I know Sitka is the biggest and it has the most, and the demands on us can feel overwhelming. said Foss. “But a third of the fleet is here.”

Most assembly members said they would support a $25,000 donation to the legal fund, and some said they would be willing to contribute more than that amount in the future. Assembly member Tim Pike said he wanted to shift the conversation around ‘why’ the contribution was necessary.

“I heard it several times here tonight, you know, ‘Trollers paid a bunch of taxes, so we want to give it to them.’ I don’t look at it that way,” Pike said. “I see it as a community investment. I see it coming out of our pockets. I see it as a contribution from all of us. I don’t think ‘the trollers earned it.’ Well, you earned it because you’re Sitakan, and you’re part of our economy. But I think it belongs to all of us, it’s not just trollers.

City Administrator John Leach said he would press the congressional delegation to commit more resources to support the Trollers Association in the suit. She said staff and city lobbyists had a meeting with Senators Murkowski and Sullivan and Representative Peltola’s office staff last week to discuss options.

“It was reiterated by all staff members on the call that this is a very important issue for all three members of the delegation,” Leach said. โ€œThey have found legal counsel and salmon treaty expertise with the MSA to assist them and are coordinating with each other regarding potential amicus briefs that they may file jointly with the Court, and that they will soon Intend to circulate a draft internally as soon as .week.”

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The assembly unanimously approved a $25,000 donation, along with a separate resolution supporting Southeast troll fisheries. The ordinance will come up before the assembly for final reading in its next regular meeting on February 14.

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