Indian Tribes File Amicus Brief in Wild Fish Conservancy Lawsuit

Image: Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes.

An amicus brief filed June 16 with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes in Juneau is the latest development in a lawsuit in which Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) in Seattle is seeking to halt the commercial king salmon troll fishery this summer in Southeast Alaska.

WFC has said the salmon are needed by endangered Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW) in Puget Sound.

Backers of the Southeast Alaska harvesters contend that halting the fishery won’t help the orcas in Puget Sound at all, but would devastate Southeast Alaska’s economy.

The tribal amicus brief supports a state of Alaska motion stopping a district courts order from going into effect while the appeal is pending before the Ninth Circuit.

The Tlingit & Haida statement released when the amicus brief was filed said Southeast Alaska’s troll fleet and coastal communities face unprecedented uncertainty and risk due to the WFC’s misguided lawsuit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), concerning its 2019 Biological Opinion along with the Incidental Take Permit for Southeast Alaska’s king salmon troll fishery.

Tlingit & Haida President Richard Chalyee Eesh Peterson said the Southern Resident killer whales are not struggling because of the Southeast Alaska troll fishery.

“There are many environmental factors facing the Puget Sound because of habitat destruction and climate change that are affecting these whales,” he said. “The Wild Fish Conservancy’s claims are a direct attack on our food security and way of life.”

The amicus brief was filed a week after Tlingit & Haida and 15 Southeast Alaska tribes issued a joint letter calling on NOAA to appeal any decision that does not protect Alaska’s sustainable troll fishery, to commit necessary resources to timely issue revisions of the 2019 biological opinion and, if needed, to provide interim Endangered Species Act coverage to the Southeast Alaska troll fishery while the biological opinion is being revised.

WFC, meanwhile, hailed the federal court’s initial decision as a landmark order halting which WFC contends is the overharvest of Chinook salmon in Southeast Alaska, “jeopardizing the survival of federally protected SRKW and wild Chinook populations coastwide.”

Halting the Southeast Alaska troll fishery would mark a turning point in the whales’ recovery, they said.

According to WFC Executive Director Emma Helverson, halting the troll fisher would also help recover and restore wild Chinook salmon from rivers throughout Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, which she said is essential to rebuilding those populations for the long term.