Justice Department will appeal court order forcing Southeast Alaska troll fishery closure

king salmon
Southeast Alaska king salmon (File/KCAW)

The U.S. Department of Justice will appeal a federal court order forcing the closure of the commercial king salmon troll fishery in Southeast Alaska.

In early May, Washington U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones upheld an earlier recommendation that the Southeast summer and winter king fisheries were catching too much of the food source of a dwindling population of Puget Sound’s Southern Resident killer whales, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Jones’s order required the fishery closures and required the National Marine Fisheries Service to vacate and rewrite the rules that allow for the fisheries to happen.

The Justice Department’s notice to appeal was submitted on May 23 on behalf of the Department of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The defendant intervenors in the case, the Alaska Trollers Association and the State of Alaska, filed motions earlier this month calling for a “partial stay” of the order, pending an appeal to allow the fisheries to proceed. The state argued that the court order had failed to account for the economic cultural and social harm to the troll fleet and Southeast Alaska.

The lawsuit was originally filed by the Wild Fish Conservancy to protect an endangered population of Southern Resident Killer Whales in Puget Sound. The Washington-based nonprofit also appealed, and asked for an injunction vacating a prey increase program intended to mitigate the effects of the Southeast troll harvest by rearing king salmon in hatcheries. They argued that the hatchery program doesn’t go far enough to mitigate the risks to both wild king salmon and killer whales.

On May 26, both requests for stays from the state and the Wild Fish Conservancy were denied. Judge Jones wrote that the court extensively reviewed the economic concerns raised by the state and the trollers, but found that the consequences “did not overcome the seriousness of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s violations.” And in his rejection of the Wild Fish Conservancy’s request, Jones wrote that vacating the “prey increase program” would have “cascading impacts” to commercial and recreational fisheries in Washington that aren’t involved in the lawsuit.

In response to the ruling late Friday, the State of Alaska filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, requesting the court issue a decision by June 23.

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