The United Cook Inlet Drift Association has once again filed suit against the federal government over management of the Cook Inlet salmon fishery.
UCIDA and Cook Inlet Fishermen's Fund are suing the National Marine Fisheries Service over the decision to transfer control of the fishery from federal to state control, saying the move violates the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
While the state of Alaska has been responsible for setting escapement goals, making allocation decisions and managing the fishery in-season, in the past that was supposed to be done under the supervision of NMFS and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which was required to update a Fishery Management Plan every 10 years, although the last time the plan was updated was 1990. There have been occasional amendments for areas other than Cook Inlet since then.
In December 2011, the NPFMC unanimously voted to officially have Alaska Department of Fish and Game manage Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and Alaska Peninsula salmon fisheries, and note that in the FMP.
The final ruling was published in the public register in December 2012, and UCIDA filed suit in January.
UCIDA President Dave Martin said that the goal is to have the courts tell the state that they have to manage the fishery according to the MSA.
"The main issues are the maximum sustained yield and using the best biology and science available, and consider the economics of the area and the livelihoods of people, and the other national standards, " Martin said.
He was referring to the 10 national standards established by MSA, which every fishery managed under an FMP must adhere to.
The current situation is a bit like the fox watching the hen house, according to Martin, who suggested there may need to be a third party review, because NMFS agreed to end its oversight of the fishery because the state maintained that they were abiding by the standards in MSA.
"Right now, the state says 'yeah, we're doing it, using the best science available,' and we know it's not true," he said.
Martin pointed to a report compiled by ADF&G for the House Resources Committee in Juneau that identified river systems frequently
The report is subtitled "Unharvested Salmon Surpluses: Causes and Potential Solutions," and covers many river systems in the state from Southeast Alaska to the Yukon/Kuskokwim delta, although it curiously does not include sockeye salmon in the Kenai or Kasilof Rivers, which have chronic over-escapement problems.
Although the report includes "potential solutions" in the subtitle, only one river system, the Cinder River in Bristol Bay, suggests that any action is needed by the Board of Fisheries. All the other rivers list "None" under the "Tools Needed" heading, stating that Emergency Order authority is sufficient to mitigate the over-escapement problem.
While the report does not quantify the over-escapement or calculate the monetary loss to the state economy, Martin suggested it was in the tens of millions of dollars.
For example, it states that the Naknek River in Bristol Bay, one of the bigger sockeye producers for the area, has exceeded the upper escapement goal for seven out of the past ten years.
Martin also pointed out that the other cost from over-escapement was the potential for smaller returns from stressed systems.
While it is difficult to get a time line on cases in the federal court system, Martin acknowledged that there would not be any ruling before the 2013 season.
Governor Sean Parnell has replaced outgoing Board of Fisheries member Bill Brown with another member who makes his living from the sport fishing industry, Reed Morisky of Fairbanks.
According to the Governor's press release, Morisky is the owner and operator of Wilderness Fishing, a sport fishing guide service based in Fairbanks and Nenana. He currently works as a project manager for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Division of Design and Construction. He is a past member of the Sport Fishing Guide Services Task Force, Summit Drive Service Area Commission, and the Steese Area Volunteer Fire Department Board of Directors. Morisky serves as a current member for the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, Trout Unlimited, Alaska Outdoor Council, and the National Rifle Association.
Morisy's appointment is effective immediately but must be confirmed by the legislature.
The Mat-Su Valley legislative delegation issued a statement welcoming the appointment, according to Alaska Business Monthly.
Senate President Charlie Huggins commended the governor's move and looks forward to developing the fishery resources of the state.
"We have teamed up with the interior delegation to ensure the entire spectrum of fishing is looked at," Senator Huggins said. "There need to be sound policies in place that not only look at subsistence and commercial fishing, but recreational and sport fishing, as well."
"I am very concerned about the shortage of king salmon in the Mat-Su valley," said Senator Mike Dunleavy, R-Mat-Su Valley. "I commend the appointment of Morisky and believe we can work together to responsibly develop fishing resources in Mat-Su and the state as a whole. This addition brings balance back to the Board."
Other legislators lamented the perceived lack of Mat-Su representation on the Board.
"It's important for there to be fair representation on the board, especially for neglected areas such as the Mat-Su and Interior Alaska," said Representative Bill Stoltze, R-Mat-Su/Chugiak. "The Mat-Su and Interior are united in the effort to see a fairer decision making process."
There has not been a BOF member from a Cook Inlet commercial fishery since Governor Jay Hammond appointed Dannie Garroute from Ninilchik who served from 1975 until 1980.
There have been twelve sport fishing representatives in that time from towns from Wasilla to Anchor Point.
East Side setnetter Brent Johnson was nominated in 2009 but his confirmation did not make it through the legislature.
Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.