A new appeal has been filed in a fishing case based on the alleged impact of the commercial salmon trolling fishery in Southeast Alaska on the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) in Puget Sound.
The Alaska Trolley Association (ATA) asked the US District Court for Western Washington on Monday to deny a request by the Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) in Seattle to end a dam enhancement program already funded to provide more salmon to endangered orcas. The WFC continued litigation to stop the commercial trolling salmon fishery, arguing that stopping that fishery would provide more fish in Puget Sound for endangered whales.
The WFC argues in its motion that “any risk of adverse impacts to SRKW due to the reversal of the dam enhancement program has been largely negated by the court’s partial reversal of the bycatch statement (ITS) authorizing the take commercial Chinook salmon, the activities that mitigation required in the first place.”
The case has its roots in the management of Chinook salmon stocks under the 2019 Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada, a 10-year agreement that sets maximum catch limits for salmon in Alaska and other areas of the West Coast. . The treaty also commits the US federal government to providing funding for habitat restoration while increasing Chinook releases from hatcheries, including a prey enhancement program to increase food for orcas over a five-year period. years.
A court ruling issued last August found that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by approving salmon harvests in the fishery. of southeast Alaska troll salmon, with that fishery catching Chinook salmon native to streams as far south as the Columbia River, including some of Puget Sound.
Then US Magistrate Judge Michelle Peterson in Seattle found that NMFS could not simply depend on any planned mitigation program for the fishery to continue. Peterson ruled that to offset the adverse effects on the SRKW, the mitigation should be subject to enforceable obligations to avoid undue delay in its implementation.
The ATA maintains that the prize enhancement program was intended to provide more to endangered whales than just continued reductions in catch allocations under the latest version of the Pacific Salmon Treaty in 2019. The ATA said By vacating the ITS and maintaining the dam enhancement program, the court erred in its equitable analysis under vacatur standards, but not as WFC alleges. As harvest figures from the commercial troll fisheries and other published data demonstrate, the benefits of the prey enhancement program outweigh the impacts on endangered orcas from two seasons of the commercial troll fishery, the ATA maintains. To avoid destroying a regional way of life and economy in Southeast Alaska, that bycatch declaration should not have been struck down, the ATA said.
The ATA also noted that the WFC’s own expert had identified that simply stopping commercial trolling in southeast Alaska would not improve the southern resident orca population, which would only maintain the status quo with no growth for the next 100 years.
The University of Washington’s Puget Sound Institute noted in an article last November that the WFC is trying to shut down commercial salmon troll fisheries in Southeast Alaska because the federal government failed to adequately consider the effects of those fisheries on whales. in danger of extinction.
The Puget Sound Institute article also noted that the issues are further complicated by the fact that Puget Sound Chinook and other Chinook populations have declined so severely that they are themselves on the Endangered Species List, joining killer whales. critically endangered. Threatened Chinook populations are also found in the Lower Columbia, Upper Snake, and Upper Willamette rivers.