Soldotna approves filing of EEZ lawsuit brief

The lawsuit seeks to reopen commercial salmon fishing in the Upper Cook Inlet Exclusive Economic Zone

Upper Cook Inlet Exclusive Economic Zone can be seen on this map provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Image via fisheries.noaa.gov)

Upper Cook Inlet Exclusive Economic Zone can be seen on this map provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Image via fisheries.noaa.gov)

The Soldotna City Council unanimously passed a resolution to direct the city attorney to file an amicus brief in a contentious fishing court case during the body’s regular meeting on Wednesday.

The lawsuit — United Cook Inlet Drift Association and Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund vs. National Marine Fisheries Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — seeks to reopen commercial salmon fishing in the Upper Cook Inlet Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends from south of Kalgin Island to about Anchor Point. An amicus brief refers to a legal brief filed by an outside party of a lawsuit to provide additional information to a court of law.

NOAA voted in November to close the commercial fishery in the zone, citing the need to optimize stock conservation in Cook Inlet.

The announcement has resulted in stark criticism, both from fishermen and local municipalities.

The Kenai City Council stated its opposition to the closure in July and the Homer City Council voted to file a brief in the lawsuit last month.

Soldotna City Council members echoed sentiments similar to those concerned about the ramifications of the commercial salmon closure.

Council member Dave Carey said he “strongly oppose(d)” the move made by federal agencies to bar commercial fishermen from harvesting in the EEZ.

“I think this is immoral, that (is), the destruction of the people and the culture, and this is what this is aimed at,” Carey said.

Council member Dan Nelson said the industry is historic to people living on the Kenai Peninsula, both socially and economically.

While Nelson said he supported the resolution to file an amicus brief, he also discussed some of the negative consequences of addressing the lawsuit.

“It’s not a good thing for us to stand silent when it’s something that’s important, I acknowledge that, but I am concerned a little bit about the precedent of weighing in on every piece of legislation that we may not be experts in,” Nelson said. “Fisheries politics is a nasty business and I have absolutely no doubt that this was politically motivated.”

Council member Justin Ruffridge said the EEZ closure could result in long-term consequences for the peninsula.

“For me it’s relatively simple,” he said. “There’s an area in which the citizens of our Kenai Peninsula Borough and many citizens of our town utilize those areas for their livelihood. A closure of that magnitude has effects that I think we actually probably can’t know.”

The council meeting can be viewed on the city’s website.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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