Decision on Fishing in Cook Inlet EEZ Goes to Feds

Members of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council took no action during April meetings regarding amending the fishery management plan for salmon in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters off Cook Inlet.

The inaction now puts the decision in the hands of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

NMFS’ Alaska Regional Administrator Jon Kurland said his agency is now tasked with coming up with a plan to revise that fishery management plan, which was written by the federal fisheries council.

Marine Fisheries Service members had intended to amend the salmon plan for management of all salmon fishing in the federal waters of upper Cook Inlet.

Federal management must be consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, along with the 2016 Ninth Circuit Court decision and the more recent summary judgment opinion of the Alaska District Court in a case brought by United Cook Inlet Drift Association (UCIDA).

In January 2013, the drift association sued the fisheries service, challenging the NPFMC’s approval of removing federal waters in Cook Inlet from the Cook Inlet fishery management plan.

UCIDA is opposed to federal management of that fishery and had urged that the council work with the state and stakeholders to write a fisheries management plan.

In June 2022, Judge Joshua Kindred handed down a U.S. District Court ruling in favor of UCIDA.

The council’s advisory panel had recommended that the council adopt an alternative for federal management of the economic zone, with specific management delegated to the state.

The council did adopt a lengthy new purpose and need statement and alternatives for analysis by council staff regarding chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea.

The statement notes that the best available science suggests that ecosystem and climate changes are the leading causes of recent chum salmon failures, but that a number of chum salmon are taken as bycatch in the Eastern Bering Sea pollock trawl fishery, thereby reducing the number of chums returning to western and interior Alaska rivers and subsistence fisheries.