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Alaska legislators worry that killer whales and a federal judge could be dooming a major fishery

Alaska legislators worry that killer whales and a federal judge could be dooming a major fishery
Rape. Rebecca Himschut, I-Sitka, Rep. Lady Shaw, R-Anchorage, talks during a session of the Alaska House of Representatives on February 22, 2023. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

The Alaska House of Representatives voted 35-1 on Wednesday to approve a letter urging state and federal officials to limit measures that could shut down a major king salmon fishery in Southeast Alaska.

“This fishery has struck,” said Rep. Rebecca Himschut, I-Sitka, and sponsor of the letter. joint resolution of the house 5Which now goes to the Senate.

The proposal has broad bipartisan support in the Alaska Legislature, where lawmakers see the issue as an outside group attacking the Alaskan way of life.

โ€œThis resolution is about much more than just the Southeast Alaska fisheryโ€ฆit is about defending our state resources and our right to our own fisheries,โ€ said Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, speaking in support of the resolution on Wednesday. .

from 2020Washington State-based Wild Fish Conservancy has been fighting The National Marine Fisheries Service in court, arguing that the agency acted illegally when it approved a 2019 document that provides Endangered Species Act coverage for Southeast Alaska’s salmon fisheries. That document allows fishermen to catch salmon sought by endangered species.

The Wild Fish Conservancy seeks to preserve killer whales that live in or near Puget Sound; that group of whales is known as southern killer whaleWas listed as endangered in 2005.

Those whales consume king salmon in the waters off southeast Alaska, and king salmon are highly prized by fishermen. Commercial trollers, mostly in small boats, use hooks and lines to catch kings to sell.

The McDowell Group, now known as the McKinley Research Group, have guessed That 1,450 fishermen โ€“ including crew and boat owners โ€“ participate in the Southeast troll fishery, which has an economic impact of $85 million.

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McDowell estimates that about 44% of that economic activity is from the king salmon harvest.

In court, attorneys representing the Wild Fish Conservancy have argued that the amount of king salmon taken by commercial fishermen is so large that it affects the whales’ survival and prevents their populations from growing.

Afterwards a preliminary decision In 2021, a US District Court judge sided with the Wild Fish Conservancy, appointing a magistrate judge for further analysis. result reportreleased in December, reached a similar conclusion and recommended voiding the document providing Endangered Species Act protections for the winter and summer Chinook salmon troll fisheries.

This would leave only a two-month spring fishery, which fishermen say is too small to survive and would result in an effective closure of the fishery.

The district court judge in charge of the case has not yet made a final determination.

The state of Alaska and various fisheries groups have sided in defense of the federal Fisheries Service, and in late February, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said on statewide talk radio that he would appeal a negative decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the US Supreme. Court, if necessary.

The resolution passed by the House this week provides legislative support for the cause and calls on the state’s congressional delegation to work to keep the fishery open, even if judges shut it down.

Cities in Southeast Alaska have passed similar resolutions of support, and the city of Sitka has gone so far as to approve a $25,000 donation to the Alaska Trawlers Association, which is also fighting the lawsuit.

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In Wrangel’s visit this weekSen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said it’s possible the closure of the fishery could turn into an economic disaster, but he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“This lawsuit is ridiculous,” Sullivan said in comments first reported by KSTK-FM in Wrangel. โ€œThink about what they are trying to do: Shut down this fishery. It is estimated that this could affect the Southeast to the tune of $100 million for the orca problems in Puget Sound. Not asking to shut down. They’re not asking about pollution in Puget Sound. They’re considering shutting down our fisheries here. Silly, and abusing the Endangered Species Act.

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