Financial Support for Trollers Pours in from Southeast Alaska

Chinook salmon. File photo.

Financial support from local governments, nonprofits and the seafood industry is pouring in to help Southeast Alaska salmon trollers, a small boat hook and line fishery, battle litigation that would bring their summer and winter commercial troll fisheries to a halt.

The fishery, which provides a substantial number of harvesting and processing jobs, contributes significantly to the economy of Southeast Alaska.

The litigation was brought by the Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) in Seattle, which contends that an end to the trollers summer and winter fisheries would benefit Chinook salmon and Southern Resident killer whales, for whom these salmon are a diet staple.

According to the WFC, the government has failed to address the impact of Alaska’s Chinook harvests on these killer whales. The WFC has not commented on reports from fisheries biologists on the vast amounts of salmon consumed in that area by a record number of sea lions and seals in the Salish Sea, a topic that was a cover story in the Feb. 5 edition of The Seattle Times.

The newspaper noted that Washington state officials are exploring whether to kill sea lions and seals in the Salish Sea and outer coast in an effort to save these salmon from extinction.

A magistrate judge in Washington state has recommended closure of the winter and summer troll fisheries in Southeast Alaska.

A white paper from Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) and the Alaska Trollers Association (ATA) says that pollution, industrial toxins, urbanization, habitat loss and human caused disturbance are the primary factors limiting the recovery of the Southern Resident orcas.

The document concludes that “In short, Southern Resident orcas are threatened primarily because of their prolonged residence each year in Puget Sound and inland Southern British Columbia waters, all areas that are heavily used and contaminated by a growing human population.” The report is based on extensive review of related research, data and published literature.

Trollers spokesperson Matt Donohoe said a number of promised donations to help pay ATA’s bills for fighting the lawsuit are in progress, but that donations to date, ranging to thousands of dollars, have been generous, including a $15,000 donation from a gear shop in Sitka, plus $22,326 more from a fund raiser dinner of fish and chips held at the Elks Club in Sitka on Sunday, Feb. 5. The Sitka Assembly also recently committed to donate $25,000 to support ATA in its legal fight.

The WFC sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) over NMFS’ 2019 Biological Opinion, a document that provides Endangered Species Act coverage to all Southeast Alaska’s salmon fisheries.

NMFS is currently revising that document, which was found to be inadequate on a number of largely technical or process related issues and includes the Incidental Take Statement essential to open a fishery that may impact an endangered species.