ANCHORAGE — Oral argument in the lawsuit over 2013 Cook Inlet commercial fisheries management was scheduled for later this month at a trial setting conference in Anchorage on Friday.
The Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund, or CIFF, sued the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in July 2013, asserting that fisheries managers did not follow Cook Inlet salmon management plans appropriately in 2013, causing harm to commercial fishermen there.
CIFF asked for a preliminary injunction requiring Fish and Game to follow certain aspects of the Cook Inlet salmon management plans, but Judge Andrew Guidi, in Anchorage Superior Court, ruled that it was not necessary.
The case is now moving forward on a regular schedule.
Oral argument on the state’s motion for summary judgment is scheduled for May 29 at 10 a.m.
Lawyers from the state Department of Law, representing the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and for the Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund will each have 30 minutes for argument, for a total one hour proceeding May 29.
Guidi said he will try to make a decision on the motion for summary judgment within 30 days so that both sides know whether to start with discovery for a full trial.
The state has asked the judge to uphold Fish and Game’s interpretation of the management plans in its motion for summary judgment; CIFF has opposed that.
If Guidi does not make a final order on the motion for summary judgment, the case will move to a bench trial in November.
Both sides agreed that the case could be conducted in a five-day trial. Currently, there’s no request for a jury, so the judge will make a decision on the matter.
If needed, the trial is scheduled for the week of Nov. 3, although it’s trailing which means that there are other cases lined up in front of it, and the parties will not know until Oct. 24 if the trial is for certain.
ADFG manages several sectors and gear types in the marine and freshwaters of Cook Inlet and the central Kenai Peninsula. Sport, personal use and educational fishery participants, as well as setnetters and the drift fleet, harvest primarily sockeye salmon, as well as king and coho salmon.
The Board of Fisheries has passed several management plans that address Kenai River late-run kings, Kasilof River sockeyes, and Kenai River sockeyes.
The two sides disagree about how strictly the Board of Fisheries has intended for the plans to be followed, and Fish and Game managers said in testimony that they contain a clause that allows the department to go outside the plans if that is necessary to meet the escapement goals.
CIFF has argued that because the Board of Fisheries considered, but did not adopt, additional management measures at its March 2013 meeting, it didn’t want those tools used.
Fisheries managers said during argument last summer that when the board made that decision, members noted that Fish and Game already could use some of the tools being considered, and didn’t want to make management more restrictive than it already was.
If Guidi ultimately finds that the Fish and Game erred in its management, commercial fishers could be entitled to some sort of repayment for the harm it caused them.
The Kenai King Conservation Alliance is an intervenor in the case, but did not participate in the trial setting conference. The state’s counsel said they would talk to the group about sharing their time if the group wanted to participate in the trial. Because the group has not filed a brief in the case, Guidi said he wouldn’t let them participate in the May 29 oral argument.