UCIDA offers clarification of lawsuit

  • Saturday, January 31, 2015 5:09pm
  • Opinion

There have been numerous misstatements made about a lawsuit being pursued by the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, including published commentaries by Howard Delo, Les Palmer and Karl Johnstone (recently removed as Board of Fisheries Chairman). We hope that this brief statement provides clarification on the nature of this litigation.

After the passage of the Magnuson Stevens Act in 1976, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) set up a process for providing oversight of fisheries that fell under the Act. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is to work with the State and stakeholder groups to write Fisheries Management Plans for regional fisheries that comply with the 10 National Standards in the Magnuson Stevens Act. Authority for managing the fishery can then be delegated to the State. The State of Alaska agreed, in a Memorandum of Understanding, that it would manage fisheries in Cook Inlet in a manner consistent with the Act.

By the late 1990’s the State stopped following its agreement with NMFS, and actively took the position that it need not consider the Magnuson Stevens Act, or the national standards, in making fishery management decisions in Cook Inlet. Since that change, harvests of salmon in Cook Inlet have significantly declined. (Documentation of this decline is available on request and on our website.) UCIDA repeatedly asked the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to update the Fisheries Management Plan for Cook Inlet, last updated in 1990. Instead, in 2012, the Council simply removed Cook Inlet altogether from the plan.

In January of 2013, UCIDA filed a lawsuit against NMFS and the Secretary of Commerce, challenging the approval of this decision by the Council to remove federal waters in Cook Inlet from the scope of the federal salmon fishery management plan. This case is currently pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, as case number 14-35928, and is under assessment by the mediation program for settlement potential. The State of Alaska was not sued. The State of Alaska decided to intervene in support of the NMFS and participate as an intervenor-defendant.

UCIDA does not want federal management of the Cook Inlet fishery. We are only asking that the State be held to the same management standards in Cook Inlet that they have to follow in other fisheries such as Southeast Alaska salmon and Bering Sea crab.

Concerns about “federal overreach” through a fishery management plan simply misunderstand the mechanism by which the Magnuson Stevens Act operates. The MSA is our national charter and model for sound, science-based management of commercial fisheries. Federal oversight through NMFS is limited to ensuring that the plan complies with the MSA’s national standards, and that the State complies with the plan

UCIDA’s principal concern is the long term health of the salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet. Harvests of salmon in Cook Inlet have significantly declined in the last two decades. These declines, in large part, are attributable to mismanagement by the State. Invasive pike and other habitat problems in the Mat-Su Basin have eliminated 100 percent of the salmon production in 8 lakes, and have reduced total production in that watershed by 50 percent. Rather than address the in-river problems, the State responded by progressively restricting commercial fishing that targets healthy stocks heading to the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers, even though commercial fisheries only catch a fraction of the stocks headed north to the Mat-Su basin.

The complete extirpation of salmon from eight lakes in the Mat-Su Basin and the recent crash in Chinook returns raise the specter that one or more such stocks could decline to the point at which a listing as “threatened” or “endangered” is warranted under the Endangered Species Act. At that point we would face a real federal takeover of fishery management decisions in Cook Inlet. UCIDA’s lawsuit is an effort to prevent this from occurring.

This piece was submitted by the United Cook Inlet Drift Association.

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