Teaser

Opinion: Seafood Producers Cooperative responds to WFC ruling

“I want to convey our great disappointment…”

  • By Norman Pillen
  • Monday, May 8, 2023 9:56pm
  • Opinion

As president of Seafood Producers Cooperative, representing nearly 400 fishermen-owners, who reside in California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, I want to convey our great disappointment and frustration with the recent ruling concerning the Wild Fish Conservancy and their lawsuit directed at our Salmon Troll fleet.

SPC and its fishermen-owners have been the premier producers, processors and marketers of wild-caught troll kings for the last five decades. These fish are one of our highest valued products and generally return the best margins to our membership. They are held in high regard by our customers who regard them to be the highest quality and best tasting salmon available. Losing access to these fish will not only reflect an estimated 40-50% direct loss of income to many of our family-owned-and-operated Alaskan trollers, but also have a significantly negative impact on our profitability as a company, which affects all members. The loss of market share is also a major concern for us as customers turn to other products and sources to fill that void, and it will be difficult and costly to redevelop those markets.

We have a vested interest in conservation of the resource — king salmon represent a livelihood not only to our fishermen-owners but to future generations of fishermen as well. As fishermen, we have always been involved in the management process of these fish to promote future availability for our fishermen and the consumer who in most cases do not have the resources to go out and harvest king salmon themselves but depend on the commercial fishery to provide this healthy and delicious protein source.

As long as I have been involved with our co-op, nearly 40 years now, our membership has always had a seat at the table with Alaska Trollers Association, Alaska Board of Fish, Alaska Department of Fish & Game advisory committees, the Pacific Salmon Treaty, United Fishermen’s Association, Washington Trollers Association, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association, and others. All of these groups represent fishermen in identifying sustainability goals, which include quota management and harvest levels, as well as habitat restoration and dam removals. Just as Bristol Bay fishermen have fought hard to keep a potentially devastating mine out of their region to save the salmon, we have fought hard to keep the Tongass National Forest from being clear-cut and mined to protect salmon populations.

The WFC found a technicality in NOAA’s Biological opinion for troll-caught king salmon. No other fishing gear groups are being attacked and other commercial and sports fishermen in the region (and in Puget Sound) will continue to harvest king salmon. The WFC thereby identified a potential easy win and targeted the industry group with the least amount of financial backing to fight this argument. (The troll fleet is made up of small mom and pop family-owned small boats.) I view this as an intentional and malicious move to drum up financial and popular support to finance the next pernicious lawsuit against commercial fishermen.

If this lawsuit were really about orca recovery and king salmon stocks, WFC would have identified and called out the challenges much closer to home, such as pollution, vessel traffic and loss of habitat in the Puget Sound region, all of which have greater negative impact on the orcas than a small boat fishery almost 1,000 miles away — and notably, meanwhile, the northern resident orca population in Southeast Alaska has nearly doubled since the 1970s! WFC has publicly stated their opposition to hatcheries, and even successfully succeeded in shutting some down. If prey availability is the real concern, why would one reduce hatchery production? (Southeast Alaska’s strategic use of hatcheries is one reason why resident orca populations have doubled there.) The fact that WFC, as well as Judge Jones, refused to consider evidence and testimony from our industry representatives only reinforces the idea that this was a one-sided endeavor with no consideration for the devastating ramifications for the fishermen and communities that will be affected.

There has always been an option to discuss the concerns with our fishing associations and to work together to address the concerns with orca and salmon populations, while minimizing the challenges to our fleet and their way of life, but WFC chose a more confrontational path that has created opponents in the endeavor instead of allies. As fishermen, we have a vested interest in conservation of the species and we have participated in conservation efforts. We could have been an ally to help save the southern resident orca population. We all want to see the orca population succeed and we surely have a vested interest in seeing our king salmon returns increase, but we will end up funding attorneys instead of focusing our resources on restoration and prey availability now.

We have been fortunate and are thankful for the quick and supportive response in the face of this challenge from the state of Alaska, our coastal communities, most of the major fishery associations, other conservation groups such as our friends at Salmon State, as well as The Working Waterfront Coalition of Bellingham in coming alongside the Southeast Alaska Troll fleet in the effort to call out this irresponsible and misguided lawsuit. The state of Alaska has quickly appealed the order to the 9th Circuit Court and asked for a stay, and we sincerely hope the next considering judge is open to hearing our side of the argument. SPC and our fishermen will survive this debacle, as we have survived many others in the past, but the pain and unnecessary hardship that this frivolous lawsuit places on our fleet if our access to king salmon goes through to WFC’s intended result will long be remembered in any future conversations.

Norman Pillen is president of the Seafood Producers Cooperative.

More in Opinion

An array of stickers awaits voters on Election Day 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The case for keeping the parties from controlling our elections

Neither party is about to admit that the primary system they control serves the country poorly

Voters fill out their ballots at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai, Alaska on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Voter tidbit: Important information about voting in the upcoming elections

Mark your calendar now for these upcoming election dates!

Larry Persily (Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: State’s ‘what if’ lawsuit doesn’t much add up

The state’s latest legal endeavor came July 2 in a dubious lawsuit — with a few errors and omissions for poor measure

The entrance to the Homer Electric Association office is seen here in Kenai, Alaska, on May 7, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: Speak up on net metering program

The program allows members to install and use certain types of renewable generation to offset monthly electric usage and sell excess power to HEA

Gov. Mike Dunleavy signs bills for the state’s 2025 fiscal year budget during a private ceremony in Anchorage on Thursday, June 25, 2024. (Official photo from The Office of the Governor)
Alaska’s ‘say yes to everything’ governor is saying ‘no’ to a lot of things

For the governor’s purposes, “everything” can pretty much be defined as all industrial development

Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board members, staff and advisors meet Oct. 30, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The concerns of reasonable Alaskans isn’t ‘noise’

During a legislative hearing on Monday, CEO Deven Mitchell referred to controversy it’s created as “noise.”

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Crime pays a lot better than newspapers

I used to think that publishing a quality paper, full of accurate, informative and entertaining news would produce enough revenue to pay the bills

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo
Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom addresses the crowd during an inaugural celebration for her and Gov. Mike Dunleavy at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Jan. 20, 2023.
Opinion: The many truths Dahlstrom will deny

Real conservatives wouldn’t be trashing the rule of law

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses his veto of a wide-ranging education bill during a press conference March 16 at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Governor, please pay more attention to Alaskans

Our governor has been a busy guy on big issues.

Priya Helweg is the acting regional director and executive officer for the Region 10 Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
Happy Pride Month

This month is dedicated to acknowledging and uplifting the voices and experiences of the LGBTQI+ community

A roll of “I voted” stickers sit at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau in 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Strengthening democracy: Native vote partners to boost voter registration

GOTNV and VPC are partnering to send over 4,000 voter registration applications this month to addresses and P.O. boxes all over Alaska

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after he was found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial in New York on May 30.
Opinion: Trump’s new fixers

Fixers from Alaska and elsewhere step in after guilty verdict