The North Pacific Fishery Management Council formed a committee Thursday to explore management options for salmon in the federal waters of Cook Inlet. The court-ordered move comes after the council lost a lawsuit in 2016 against an industry group. The lawsuit first began in 2013 after the council gave control of federal salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet to the state. Here’s NPFMC council member Glenn Merrill.
“In response to public requests, the council intends to establish the Cook Inlet salmon committee to assist in management measures for the commercial salmon fishery in the Exclusive Economic Zone, EEZ, adjacent to Cook Inlet,” Merrill said as he read the official motion Thursday.
The council handed over control to the state in 2012. The United Cook Inlet Drift Association sued over the move in 2013, claiming that the state’s management structure violated the Magnusson Stevens Act, federal legislation that created the NPFMC.
The drift association thinks the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s management structure, specifically its escapement goals, allows too many fish to swim upriver and limits the number of salmon available for commercial harvest.
The state initially won the case in district court, but the drift association won after appealing the case. The state Supreme Court denied to hear the case last fall.
The newly formed committee will be made up of stakeholders appointed by the council. It’s tasked with helping the council design a federal fisheries management plan, or FMP, for federal waters in Cook Inlet, also known as the Exclusive Economic Zone.
“So under alternative two, we would be looking at delegation to the state for the management of the fishery in the EEZ, period,” Merrill said as he outlined the scope of the committee’s work. “Under alternative three, we would be looking at federal management of the fishery in the EEZ, period.”
Drift association Vice President Erik Huebsch told commissioners that the association is fine with the state managing fisheries in the EEZ, but he said that the NPFMC needs to maintain oversight of the management structure it uses.
“We really do want to have the state as a day-to-day manager. I really much prefer alternative two to the others,” Huebsch explained. “How we get there, that’s the problem. How do we make that cooperative effort work?”
The committee will present its recommendations on the FMP’s structure to the council, but there’s no set timeline for that work to be completed. The commission also tasked it with examining social and economic implications for each management option.