Judge denies temporary restraining order for fish limits in Southeast

Posted: Thursday, June 08, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- A Superior Court judge here has refused to issue an order that would have blocked new king salmon harvest limits for charter operators in Alaska's Southeast.

That means salmon restrictions imposed by the state Department of Fish and Game will continue in effect.

Judge Patricia Collins denied the request Wednesday for a temporary restraining order made by the Alaska Sportfish Council on behalf of the charter operators.

The new regulations impose a four-line limit in June, implement area limits and stop charter operators and their clients from keeping kings on Wednesdays through July.

People fishing from charter boats also won't be able to keep any king salmon caught through August and September.

Alaska Sportfish Council attorney Mike Holman of Ketchikan contended that the state's management plan has failed in its goal of stability and has brought chaos to the charter industry.

''It is common knowledge that these businesses take years to build up a sufficient return customer base which they must have to be profitable,'' Holman argued at Wednesday's hearing. ''They simply can't afford the cost of marketing a product to bring customers here for the first time if they don't come back.

''As we speak in this courtroom today, there are a hundred different lodge owners and several hundred boat captains spread throughout the region that are having an awful (time understanding) why they can't even put a hook in the water to try to catch one king salmon''

Assistant Attorney General Steve White told the court the restriction issue wasn't new.

The state and the Alaska Board of Fish went through a deliberate process in developing the limits and charter operators were given a chance to comment before the restrictions took effect, White said.

Fish and Game biologists estimate charter fishermen would exceed the Pacific Salmon Treaty limit by 6,600 king salmon without the restrictions.

The agency would have to reduce the commercial troll harvest by the same amount later in the season, White said.

Collins said courts aren't in the position to make policy, conservation or allocation decisions.

''I do not have the ability to substitute my judgment for that of the executive or legislative branch,'' Collins said. ''The only issue that this court must decide in the context of this case is whether the challenge regulation also referred to as the management plan and the emergency order issued by the commissioner of Fish and Game are legal.''

Affidavits from charter fishermen do show harm from the state's new restrictions, the judge said, but added that she was unprepared to say any laws were broken.

The state provided adequate public notice and Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue, who also was named in the suit, acted within his authority when he announced the new restrictions, she said.

The agency's statistical models are complicated and difficult to understand, but a restraining order is not justified, Collins said.

While the limits affect charter operators more than other groups, that doesn't justify the extraordinary remedy of a temporary restraining order, the judge said.

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