Southeast communities in particular are a major reason that our fisheries in Alaska are the backbone of our state’s economy, and why our state has earned the title, that I repeat often, “The Superpower of Seafood.” To protect and enhance this status is one of the reasons I worked hard to get a seat on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over fisheries, and why I work hand-in-glove with fishing groups across our state to ensure that we have abundant stocks for generations to come. What makes the troll fishery so unique, and worth fighting relentlessly for, is that this fishery is largely composed of small, family owned businesses — the ultimate small businessmen — who work hard to bring the highest quality salmon to market.
Every year hundreds of small boat, hook and line fishermen head out to sea, sometimes for weeks at a time, traveling miles offshore, in pursuit of salmon. This lifestyle exemplifies the independent Alaska spirit and provides an economic pillar for Southeast Alaska’s coastal communities, where approximately 85% of these fishermen call home. Unfortunately, this fishery is under attack by the Wild Fish Conservancy, an out-of-state environmental group known for its extreme positions. This organization is making the outrageous claim in court that Southeast Alaska troll fishery is endangering the continued existence of Puget Sound orcas, hundreds of miles away.
The lawsuit they filed should have been immediately thrown out. However, this radical group had an apparently sympathetic audience in the federal magistrate in Washington state. Last December, that federal magistrate released recommendations that would undermine decades of Pacific Salmon Treaty efforts and could force Alaska’s troll fishermen to remain at the dock for up to two fishing seasons. Missing one fishing season is completely unacceptable, much less two. The economic hardship would be severe — potentially forcing these fishermen to give up fishing all together. I’m fighting this both in the senior levels of the federal government and recently led efforts to file an amicus brief, joined by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Mary Peltola, to the court in support of the troll fishery, commercial fishermen, and Southeast communities. I urge all Alaskans to stand together in opposing this unjust action.
The magistrate’s recommendation is especially perplexing given that the WFC complaint ignores the industrial toxins, water pollution, noise disturbance, vessel traffic, and the similar impact fisheries in Puget Sound have, all of which are widely recognized as major threats to the Puget Sound orcas’ recovery — not Alaska’s troll fishery. In Alaska we are no strangers to Outside groups fundraising off of filing misguided and deceptive lawsuits regardless of the merits of the claims — or how these lawsuits hurt our fellow Alaskans. This infuriates me and is clearly what is happening here.
As is now routine for extreme environmental groups, the WFC is weaponizing the well-meaning Endangered Species Act and Puget Sound orcas in a coordinated attack against sustainable fisheries and hardworking fishermen. Shutting down Alaska’s troll fishery won’t change the fate of these orcas because science clearly indicates that Alaskans aren’t the cause of the decline. Until meaningful changes are made that actually address real problems, Alaska and Washington will likely both face challenges from environmental groups willing to use these animals’ plight to advance their extreme agendas and continue their fundraising efforts.
In recent meetings with the heads of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service, they have assured me that they also are committed to fighting back against the WFC’s frivolous lawsuit.
Currently, Southeast Alaska troll fishermen’s future rests in the hands of a federal district court judge in Washington state. I understand that it’s an uncomfortable place to be, and incredibly destabilizing for these fishermen and businesses who rely on this fishery. Southeast Alaska troll fishermen don’t know if they’ll be allowed to fish this summer. The WFC and its allies should be ashamed.
I brag to my Senate colleagues about the work Alaska’s fishermen do, and recognize the value that the Alaska troll fishery brings to our great state. I am exploring every option to ensure that Alaska’s trollers have an uninterrupted fishery. No matter what the decision of the judge is, I stand with you, and commit to continuing to fight on your behalf.
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Environment and Public Works Committee; the Veterans' Affairs Committee; and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, where he is the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries, Climate Change, and Manufacturing.