Back in March, an entity called the Wild Fish Conservancy filed a lawsuit alleging that the federal government is violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing the commercial troll fishery in Southeast Alaska to harvest king salmon.
The group says the Southeast Alaska troll catch of kings is contributing to the eventual extinction of the endangered “Southern Resident” orcas in Puget Sound.
At present, 72 orcas are counted as part of that group, and there’s no question that they eat king salmon from the same Oregon, Washington and British Columbia origin stocks that swim through and can be harvested in Southeast Alaska. There’s also no question that harvest does occur in Southeast Alaska.
But there’s also no question that the coastwide abundance and harvest of king salmon is already closely observed and managed by state, national and international entities.
The U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty process involves representatives of the federal governments of both countries, in addition to the states of Alaska, Washington and Oregon, and Northwest and Columbia River tribes.
The treaty process has produced mechanisms to gauge the coastwide abundance of king salmon, and to limit harvests when low returns are anticipated.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — which is the defendant in the Wild Fish Conservancy lawsuit — studies the salmon stocks and signs off on the harvests. Here in Alaska, the state researches locally-produced wild stocks and manages the day-to-day aspects of the commercial troll fisheries to keep the harvests within the allowable limits.
As Ketchikan knows, the allowable limits on sport and troll harvests have been slim during the past couple of years.
Most Alaska harvesters recognize the importance of conservation, not only for the health of the stock, but also as the foundation for potential future harvests. Alaska harvesters also can have confidence that harvest restrictions result from a multi-layered management mechanism developed and agreed upon by entities stretching from Alaska through British Columbia and down into Washington and Oregon. That level of scrutiny helps prevent arbitrary decision-making.
The lawsuit attempts to circumvent this entire process and arbitrarily targets one particular user group among the many factors that affect king salmon along the coast. Circumvention of process is a tactic that Southeast Alaska has seen time and again regarding other resource use in the region, and now the tactic is coming for trollers.
If the Wild Fish Conservancy was truly interested in something besides headlines and contributions, it would target relevant factors a bit closer to its home office in Washington.