A federal judge ruled Thursday to uphold the federal decision to remove Cook Inlet from the salmon fishery management plan.
Alaska has managed salmon since statehood, and the National Marine Fisheries Service removed Cook Inlet salmon from the federal fishery management plan, or FMP, after the North Pacific Fishery Management Council unanimously voted in December 2011 to officially delegate that authority to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
United Cook Inlet Drift Association and Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund filed suit in federal district court in Washington D.C. in February 2013, asserting that the federal government erred when it removed Cook Inlet from the FMP. That case was moved to Alaska District Court in Anchorage in June of that year, and oral argument was heard there in May.
The groups were not questioning the management structure, but asked for federal oversight of state salmon management — and argued that is what Congress intended in its regulations of fish in federal waters.
The council manages most fisheries in federal waters from three to 200 miles offshore shore under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The council action to delegate salmon management to the State of Alaska in 2011 made official what had been the policy since the act passed in 1976, but was required under revisions to the law that passed in 2006.
Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and Alaska Peninsula salmon fisheries were removed from the federal FMP, leaving only Southeast salmon still under federal jurisdiction because of the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada.
The fishing groups also argued that the federal managers had not followed the correct process in making the change.
Burgess wrote that the agency considered other alternatives before removing Cook Inlet from the FMP – as is required by the National Environmental Policy Act – and had followed other regulatory standards for making such a decision.
The fishing groups also argued that there could be unregulated fishing in the exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, offshore from Alaska if federal oversight of salmon management was removed.
“The court finds that NMFS adequately considered the risks of unregulated fishing in the EEZ and concluded that risk to be minimal, in compliance with NEPA,” he wrote.