NOAA seeking input on federal management plan for Cook Inlet commercial fishing
NOAA Fisheries is seeking input on its latest plan for management of the long-controversial Cook Inlet Exclusive Economic Zone, an area in Cook Inlet where commercial salmon drift fishermen say they catch the majority of fish.
In April, a federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council took no action when faced with four management plans for Cook Inlet salmon fishing, including a federal-only option. The area has previously been under the management of the state of Alaska.
The United Cook Inlet Drift Association sued in 2020 over management of the drift fishery, and the council closed the Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, to commercial salmon fishing in response. That move was widely protested by commercial fishermen, and after another lawsuit in 2022, the court sided with drift fishermen, opening the federal waters that same year.
But that was never meant to be a permanent fix, and the council should have decided on a new plan this spring. After that stalemate, NOAA published its proposed rule, calledAmendment 16, today.
Its plan would mean federal management of fishing in the EEZ, and state management of salmon fishing in state waters.
Federal management of the EEZ would usher in new rules; commercial drift gillnet fishing would be allowed four days a week, from June 19 to August 15, or until catch limits are met. Commercial fishing vessels would need a federal permit and have to follow certain monitoring requirements, and vessels could not participate in both the federal and state fisheries.
NOAA says it developed this plan in consideration of stakeholder input, and that it adheres to the Magnuson-Stevens Act. It would go into effect for the 2024 fishing season. The public can submit comments on the plan until Dec. 18, and NOAA says it will respond to all comments after that date, and make all “required modifications” before publishing a final rule.