Court Rules Against WFC in Southeast Alaska Fishery Case

Gavel photo by Wesley Tingey via Unsplash.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of Southeast Alaska commercial trollers in a case involving a lawsuit by the Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) in Seattle that hoped to stop a fishery in order to provide more fish for endangered killer whales in Puget Sound.

The fishery is now set to begin July 1.

The lawsuit had threatened to close the lucrative summer and winter salmon fisheries, which are major contributors to the Southeast Alaska economy.

The appeals court found that Judge Richard Jones in the Western District Court of Washington was in error when he vacated portions of a 2019 Southeast Alaska biological opinion that allowed for commercial king salmon trolling in that area, even if that document was flawed.

The appeals court also said that the state of Alaska and Alaska Trollers Association (ATA) showed that the impact of closing those commercial fisheries likely outweighs “the speculative environmental threats” of keeping the fishery open while the biological opinion provided by National Marine Fisheries Service is fixed.

ATA Executive Director Amy Daugherty praised the state of Alaska and congressional delegation for their help in avoiding what she said would have been disastrous consequences with those fisheries closed.

Alaska’s Tlingit & Haida Central Council had also intervened, with an amicus brief in support of the state’s request to stay the Western District of Washington’s order to close the fishery while an appeal of the order was pending before the Ninth Circuit.

WFC Executive Director Emma Helverson said the ruling was “shocking” and jeopardized both the recovery of wild Chinook salmon and critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales.

“The economic, ecological and cultural cost of losing Southern Resident orcas and wild Chinook is unfathomable,” Helverson said. “We are incredibly disheartened by this decision to continue the fishery while California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia are enacting closures or severe constraints on many of the same populations due to continuing Chinook declines.”

WFC said it is advocating for consumers to avoid purchase of Chinook salmon caught in Southeast Alaska.