Lawsuit decision reinstates jet ski ban in Kachemak Bay

Kachemak Bay
Mountains in Kachemak Bay State Park, seen from the Homer Spit on Oct. 14, 2023. (Jamie Diep/KBBI)

After a two-year-long lawsuit, personal watercraft like jet skis are once again banned on Kachemak Bay. An Alaska Superior Court judge ruled against the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in a case earlier this month.

Back in 2020, the Fish and Game repealed a jet ski ban that had been in place for nearly two decades. The ban extended through the Kachemak Bay and Fox River Flats Critical Habitat Areas, This spans nearly 230,000 acres, which covers most waters of the bay, as well as mud flats and marshlands on its northeast section.

Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang argued that the department had the authority to repeal the ban because since 2001, jet skis changed to where they wouldn’t be more damaging than watercrafts allowed in the bay.

We didn’t see any potential impact from allowing jet skis,” he said.

The Alaska State Legislature established these areas in the early 70s as especially important for fish and wildlife.

In response, Cook Inletkeeper, Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, Friends of Kachemak Bay State Park and the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition filed a lawsuit against the department in 2021 to reinstate the ban.

Cook Inletkeeper co-executive director Sue Mauger said they filed the lawsuit over concerns about the jet ski’s impact on the bay compared to other watercraft.

“Just the way that it moves in shallow waters, typical behavior that’s used on those is very different,” she said. “They don’t tend to be a transport from A to B, and they tend to be in groups, and they tend to, again, be in shallower habitats that are really critical for, juvenile fish or nesting birds.”

Judge Adolf Zeman ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, basing the decision on two reasons.

First, the statute establishing critical habitat areas to repeal the jet ski ban did not give the commissioner the authority to repeal the ban.

Second, the order stated repealing the ban was inconsistent with the statute’s intent. In this case, the department has the authority to create and repeal regulations with protecting fish and wildlife in the area as its primary goal. The court decided repealing the ban did not align with that intent.

However, Vincent-Lang still disagrees with the decision.

“We’re very perplexed with the judge’s ruling,” he said. “We seem to have the ability to adopt a regulation that prohibits jet skis, but we don’t have the ability to revisit that regulation based on current science.”

Moving forward, he says the department plans on filing a motion for reconsideration, or to appeal the decision in a higher court.

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