Citing economic concerns, cities will weigh in on lawsuit over Cook Inlet commercial fishery closure
Two towns on the Kenai Peninsula are weighing a lawsuit over the closure of part of Cook Inlet to salmon fishing.
Kenai and Homer are both submitting amicus briefs to a lawsuit by the United Cook Inlet Drift Association trying to stop the shutdown before it goes into effect next summer. Cities say the ramifications of the decision on their local economies could be intense.
âIf the council were interested in participating in the trial, I think that would be our narrow focus,â Kenai City District Attorney Scott Bloom said. âThat, ‘Listen, as a city, we’ve never been consulted. We believe that there is a big impact on the city and the fishermen who participate in the fishing.
The lawsuit concerns the decision to close part of federal waters in Cook Inlet to commercial salmon fishing, which is expected to impact the 500 license holders who fish from the southern tip of Kalgin Island to Anchor Point.
Yesterday and today, the decision has been unpopular among commercial fishermen and towns on the Kenai Peninsula. But members of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Board voted to shut down the commercial fishery last December, when they were tasked with choosing a new fisheries management plan. After the state said it would not manage the fishery alongside the federal government, the council said it had no choice but to completely shut down the area.
Since then, two separate lawsuits have been filed against the federal government.
The first comes from several fishermen in Cook Inlet and the Pacific Legal Foundation, based in Sacramento. This lawsuit argues that the composition of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Board is illegal and therefore the board does not have the power to make decisions like the one it made last year.
âIt’s kind of not an argument that I think the city has an interest in,â Bloom said. “It’s kind of a technical and legal argument.”
The second is from the drift association, UCIDA. The association says the closure does not count as a management plan and could seriously harm the fishery and its communities.
An impact statement from the North Pacific Fisheries Management Board said last year that the federal zone accounts for just under half of the revenue from the Upper Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishery – about $ 10 million. dollars.
These landings are distributed throughout the peninsula. Homer has the highest non-ship average value of this portion of the entry, at around $ 2,647,402. Kenai’s ex-ship value is approximately $ 938,453. These estimates come from annual averages for the years between 2009 and 2018.
Homer Harbourmaster Bryan Hawkins said the closure would have a huge impact on the city. Most of the license holders in the Upper Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishery are from Homer.
âWe are continually facing the ups and downs of the crop and how that affects our fleet because it directly affects the community,â he said.
He said it goes beyond the fishermen, tenders and processors who are actively fishing in the region.
âOf course there is the secondary income generated by the commercial fishermen who work on their boats during the winter to prepare them for the end of the season,â he said. âAll of these things play out in the economy. Not just Homer’s economy, but the peninsula in general.
Supporters of the closure plan said fishermen who typically fish in this part of the cove can operate elsewhere, such as closer to shore. They also suspect that a redistribution of the resource could offset some of the economic losses.
The state of Alaska has also filed an application to join the lawsuit on the federal government side.
In an emailed statement, Aaron Sadler, spokesperson for the state’s Justice Department, said, “Alaska has significant interests in this dispute and is preparing to intervene in order to fully represent and significantly these interests in all phases of the dispute. “
The state advocated for the creek to be closed at the council meeting last year. Unlike cities, the state would join in.
Bloom said Kenai would file his brief in February. He says UCIDA has requested an expedited review of the case, in anticipation of the shutdown that will take effect in 2022.