The 300 driftnetters that belong to United Cook Inlet Drift Associaion, or UCIDA , say the state’s current Cook Inlet salmon management plan violates the Magnuson Stevens Act, and they are suing.
The suit was filed by UCIDA just a year ago in federal district court in Washington DC. It challenges the validity of Amendment 12 of the Fisheries Management Plan [FMP] for salmon fisheries in the federal Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ] off the coast of Alaska. Amendment 12 essentially eliminates the EEZ waters in three areas of Alaska: in Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet and the western end of the Alaska Peninsula.
Dr. Roland Maw heads Soldotna – based UCIDA
“Half the area where we fish is in the federal EEZ. These are in federal waters and they are federally owned fish at that point. And, as such, we felt that the federal government has a piece of legislation called Magnuson Stevens Act that has certain requirements concerning the biology and management of those stocks. “
The state of Alaska has intervened in the suit, on the side of the defendants, because Amendment 12 removes federal oversight from the three areas and allows the state to manage salmon in those areas as it has since statehood. Cora Campbell is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and testified Tuesday at a finance subcommittee hearing on the issue in Anchorage.
“If you talk to federal managers, they will tell you why they are so ill -suited to manage salmon fisheries. Salmon fisheries management requires responsive in-season management. We respond to what we’re seeing on the ground on at least a daily, if not hourly, basis. If you talk to a federal lmanager, they will tell you, ‘well we can’t close fisheries on weekends, because we have to publish a notice in the Federal Register, it takes several days.’ Most people that I know that rely on fisheries don’t want to be managed on the rigid, inflexible schedule. “
Campbell has a voting seat on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. She says Amendment 12 was crafted in 2011, specifically to keep state management of salmon in the three areas.
The UCIDA suit defies the very intention of statehood, according to Chugiak Representative Bill Stoltze, who chaired Tuesday’s hearing
“They [UCIDA] wanted the obscurity of a DC courtroom, and now, they’ve lost that. Now it’s in an Alaskan venue, with the state agressively asserting the rights of state management.”
But Maw points out that Southeast Alaska has a federal FMP for salmon, something that applies to fish stocks that require conservation. And UCIDA is not asking for anything different.
“Both of these governments need to be at the table deciding what will be the management strategy. We’ve got, I think, five or six chinook stocks in Cook Inlet that are in trouble. We have stocks, that are now, if people would make the application, could qualify for Endangered Species.”
Maw says that UCIDA only wants the state and federal government to manage the stocks as they move into Alaska waters, because what goes on in the EEZ affects what goes on in state waters.
The plaintiffs had filed for summary judgement in August of 2013, and the state filed it’s cross motion in October of last year. UCIDA must reply by Wednesday. An assistant attorney general for the state says the arguments could be heard in a month, and a decision could come by early summer.