Trial date set for Sitka herring suit

A pre-trial hearing in the Tribe’s lawsuit is scheduled for November 18, with the trial calendared for the week of December 9 at the Sitka Courthouse. (Photo by Katherine Rose)

A lawsuit over management of the Sitka Sac Roe herring fishery will go to trial later this year.

During a pre-trial conference Tuesday before Judge Daniel Schally presiding from Valdez, counsel for the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, the state, and the Sitka Herring Conservation Alliance, a group that represents the interest of commercial fishing, conferred on a date in December for the five-day trial.

The trial is the culmination of years of growing discontent over weak subsistence harvests of herring in Sitka. The issue came to a head in January of 2018, when the Sitka Tribe and its allies urged the Board of Fish to revise the state’s herring management plan and reduce the level of the commercial catch. When the Board of Fish declined to make changes, the Sitka Tribal government decided to pursue the matter in court.

Judge Schally denied the Tribe’s request for an injunction in February 2019, just a few weeks before the commercial fishery was scheduled to begin. The STA then petitioned the Alaska Supreme Court for a review of Schally’s decision, and justices denied the petition in late March. Nevertheless, no openings were held this spring when the fleet found fish were too small to be marketable abroad. This was only the second time in four decades that there has been no commercial herring fishery in Sitka Sound.

A pre-trial hearing in the Tribe’s lawsuit is scheduled for November 18, with the trial calendared for the week of December 9.