SalmonState On Ongoing Lawsuit Targeting Southeast Alaska Salmon Trollers (Update)

The following is courtesy of SalmonState:

SalmonState condemns Wild Fish Conservancy’s fatally flawed approach to environmentalism and judge’s decision on Alaska’s troll fishery

JUNEAU, ALASKA—SalmonState condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the Wild Fish Conservancy’s misguided, destructive lawsuit against commercial salmon trollers in Southeast Alaska — and Seattle-based federal district judge Richard Jones’ decision today upholding a magistrate’s recommended order that would close the fleet’s winter and summer Chinook salmon fishery.

“As a wild salmon-focused environmental organization, SalmonState condemns the Wild Fish Conservancy’s misguided, irresponsible litigation — which in all probability won’t save a single endangered killer whale, but will ruin the livelihoods of thousands of Southeast Alaska’s most committed, long-term conservationists and wild salmon allies,” said SalmonState executive director Tim Bristol. “This is an abuse of the Endangered Species Act by out of touch, ideological, serial litigants.”

Southeast Alaska’s troll fishery produces some of the highest quality, most sustainable wild salmon in the marketplace and is often the poster child for sustainable fisheries thanks to its strict fishery management, minimal bycatch, and small ecological footprint. The troll fishing fleet is comprised of small, family-owned fishing boats that use a hook and line to individually catch every salmon. While troll fishing vessels are small, their economic impacts are far-reaching, especially in Southeast Alaska, where nearly every community is home to trollers. The fishery has an 85% Alaska residency rate, with about one in every 50 people in Southeast working on a trolling boat. Many families from the Pacific Northwest migrate to Alaska each summer to fish in Southeast’s troll fishery, including 115 troll fishery permit holders in Washington.

Over the years, Southeast’s trollers have reduced their Chinook harvest with no effect on killer whales or Washington salmon populations — because, as Washington’s State of Salmon in Watersheds report makes clear, it is habitat destruction, dams, climate change, and contamination that are the driving problems feeding their continued decline. Killer whale populations in other parts of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, including in Southeast Alaska, have increased in recent years, and a recent study found that inbreeding is a factor in Southern Resident killer whale decline. In the 1970s, about 270 orcas in the Salish Sea area had been captured in search of whales for SeaWorld aquariums. Twelve died during capture. Fifty were kept for display.

Trollers have a long record of advocating for wild salmon and their habitat in both Southeast Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, including when it comes to maintaining and restoring the health of the Tongass National Forest; fighting for the future of the transboundary wild salmon rivers Alaska shares with British Columbia; and removing the four lower Snake River dams in the Columbia River basin.

SalmonState conducted interviews with trollers earlier this year and recently released two short videos: Trollers are Conservationists and Trolling is Vital, which speaks to the importance of the fishery to small communities throughout Southeast Alaska. News organizations are welcome to use, reference, or request these videos.

“To save wild salmon, environmental organizations must work with people of all stripes who care deeply about wild salmon,” Bristol continued. “Instead of reaching out to trollers, or to others they target through their frequent lawsuits, the Wild Fish Conservancy is racing down a low road that will make it harder to save endangered salmon runs and threatens the people who rely most on wild salmon. The Wild Fish Conservancy’s approach to environmentalism is fatally flawed, and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. This fight is far from over.”

UPDATE: Here’s an additional statement from the Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association:

Alaska fishermen respond to judge’s decision on troll fishery 

Juneau, AK – On May 2nd, U.S. District Court Judge Jones submitted his decision to adopt U.S. Magistrate Judge Michelle Peterson’s recommended order to suspend Southeast Alaska’s Chinook troll fishery.  The closure is driven by the Wild Fish Conservancy’s misguided claim that Southeast’s troll fishery poses harm to Washington’s Southern Resident Killer Whale population.

“The court’s decision is disappointing, not only because it puts the future of Alaska’s small-boat fishing families in jeopardy, but it distracts from the larger, more urgent issues that are causing the continued decline of the Pacific Northwest’s Chinook and orca populations,” said Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association Director, Linda Behnken. “The science and data clearly shows that habitat loss, dams, climate change, water pollution, and urbanization are harming salmon and orcas in the Northwest – not our hook-and-line fishery that operates almost 1000 miles away and has done so sustainably for over 100 years.”

Southeast Alaska’s troll fishery directly employs 1,500 fishermen, with 85% of troll fishery permit holders living in Southeast Alaska, and is consistently one of Southeast Alaska’s top three most valuable fisheries, providing renewable income for fishing families living in the region’s rural, isolated communities. Prized around the world for its premium quality salmon, the troll fishery generates $148 million annually in economic outputs that include restaurant sales, consumer purchases, transportation jobs and other benefits accruing throughout the West Coast of the U.S. and beyond. 

“The Wild Fish Conservancy continues to miss the mark when it comes to salmon conservation; instead of attacking local communities and families that rely on wild salmon, they could be supporting meaningful action that leads to real solutions,” said Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association Board Member and commercial fisherman, Jeff Farvour. “Our fleet and organization will continue to fight Wild Fish Conservancy’s spurious lawsuit and do everything we can to protect the salmon that our fishery and families depend on.”