A joint House and Senate finance subcommittee on Tuesday met to hear a report on a lawsuit filed against the National Marine Fisheries Service by two Cook-Inlet commercial fishing entities.
Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, and Rep. Bill Stoltz, R-Mat Su-Chugiak and others from the subcommittee, heard from the Alaska Department of Law and representatives from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on state intervention in the lawsuit; though the plaintiff, the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, declined to participate in the proceedings.
The lawsuit challenges the validity of a 2011 decision which transferred salmon management from federal authorities to the State of Alaska in Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and Alaska Peninsula salmon fisheries.
The final rule implementing the change went into effect Jan. 22, 2013 and the drift association along with the Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund, CIFF, ask for federal oversight of the fishery arguing that salmon runs in the Cook Inlet are being mismanaged by the state.
Stoltze said the hearing was supposed to be informational and educational and said it was necessary to have the hearing in the subcommittee because the legislature’s fisheries committee was not going to do so.
“They don’t have any interest on that is my assessment,” Stoltze said.
He said he had perceived a lack of understanding on the part of legislators and his constituents on the implications of the lawsuit.
“I will not apologize for being a forum that brought information out that even seasoned legislators and seasoned forums do not know anything about,” he said.
During the hearing ADFG Commissioner Cora Campbell and others advocated strongly for continued state management of the fisheries and said there was little support on the federal level for federal oversight of the fisheries — she used examples of how federal day-to-day management of the fisheries would be difficult.
According to the lawsuit however, UCIDA says that the state should only be in charge of day-to-day management rather than the overall fisheries management plan which covers the area.
“UCIDA is not asking for the federal government to manage the day-to-day fishery,” said Roland Maw, executive director of UCIDA. “The majority of the drift fleet catch is in (federal waters). We would like the federal people at the table when decisions about our fishery are made. I want the state there too. I think, in the long term, the fish will be better off.”
Several times during the two-hour hearing, Stoltze referenced the state’s large personal-use fishery and framed UCIDA’s lawsuit as a threat to that fishery.
Though he could not cite specific language that threatened the widely used fishery.
“It’s not directly stated,” he said. “There has been a concerted effort to try to eliminate the personal use fishery by these commercial groups.”
Maw disagreed and said there was no specific provision or language in the lawsuit which would affect the personal use fishery.
“That is a complete fabrication on Representative Stoltze’s part. That’s from him and not based on anything that’s in the document,” Maw said.
After the hearing Stoltze said he would continue to advocate for a “state’s right’s” position when there’s a potential for federal management.
“I’m hoping that the administration keeps a course and backs up Alaskan State management,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having another hearing and letting the public weigh in.”
UCIDA is scheduled to file its last briefing Wednesday, the case will be judged by administrative record in U.S. District Court in Alaska.
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org