Fishing groups' request without merit, says state

Posted: Sunday, July 07, 2002

An injunction sought by two Cook Inlet commercial fishing groups to force the state to disregard regulation changes made by the Alaska Board of Fisheries in February is without merit and should be denied, the state said in its response filed Friday.

"We disagree entirely with the plaintiffs' claims. We think the regulations are valid, and we intend to fully support them," said state Assistant Attorney General Lance Nelson.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at the Kenai Courthouse.

The United Cook Inlet Drift Association and the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association want the upper end of the Kasilof River escapement goal returned to 250,000 sockeye salmon, not 300,000 as established by the board in February. They also want the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to disregard limits placed on its emergency order authority by the board.

The plaintiffs argue not enough public comment went into the board's decision in February.

The state disagrees.

In its response, the state contends the board process was fully open to the public, and the board has broad discretion to make any regulations it feels are "advisable for regulating commercial, sport, guided sport, subsistence and personal use fishing for the conservation, development and utilization of the fisheries."

The state's response also addresses the escapement goal issue, saying the Board of Fish elected to go to a Kasilof optimum escapement goal with an upper end of 300,000 fish in order to give fisheries managers more latitude to manage fishing when a Kasilof River sockeye run is strong relative to other streams.

Under the regulations passed in February, Fish and Game is directed to reach an optimum escapement of between 150,000 and 300,000 Kasilof sockeye. Previously, the fishery was managed under a biological escapement goal of 150,000 to 250,000 sockeye.

In its response, the state contends harm to the commercial fishers is "speculative and more than matched by the irreparable harm to the state's interest in avoiding disruption in the conservation and management of Cook Inlet salmon fisheries and the harm to other users."

In their suit, fishers say the board failed to give adequate notice of the new regulations regarding the Kasilof River and acted illegally in taking emergency order powers away from biologists.

"A lot got pushed through in two days (at the February board meeting). There just wasn't adequate time to discuss the issues in full," said Paul Shadura, KPFA president.

The lawyer representing the fishers, Jonathan Bauer, said last week the fishers hope to persuade Superior Court Judge Harold M. Brown to grant a temporary restraining order forcing the Department of Fish and Game to suspend the regulations in question.

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