Troll caught king salmon from the summer season of 2019 (Photo courtesy of Matt Lichtenstein)

Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday agreed to contribute to a fishing industry group’s defense of a lawsuit seeking to block salmon trolling in the region this year. Some on the assembly questioned the precedent they’d be setting.

The Wild Fish Conservancy, a Washington state conservation group, sued the National Marine Fisheries Service in March. The group is seeking an injunction blocking commercial king salmon fishing off Southeast Alaska and argues that salmon catches by Alaskan fishing fleets are taking away an important food for an endangered population of orca whales.

The Alaska Trollers Association has joined the lawsuit to ensure Alaskans are represented. Association board member Mark Roberts of Petersburg requested 2500 dollars for the legal effort.

“We are requesting funds for legal fees,” Roberts said. “We want representation in the courtroom, a decision that would affect the Southeast Alaska trollers’ livelihood.”

Alaska fishermen point to other threats to the endangered orcas in Washington and Oregon, namely polluted waters and damned rivers blocking salmon migration. And they argue closing the fishery in Alaska would do little to boost salmon numbers for the orcas.

Fishing for king salmon is governed by the Pacific Salmon Treaty, negotiated every ten years by fisheries managers in the United States and Canada.

Assembly member Bob Lynn supported the argument of the trollers association but did not think the payment could be seen as benefitting everyone in Petersburg.

Where do I draw the line that this is an appropriate expenditure of borough funds when it actually is limited to certain group?” Lynn questioned. Lynn wondered if the borough would be supporting other gear groups in their legal actions as well.

Assembly member Jeff Meucci disagreed and thought borough support of the legal action was worthwhile.

“I mean I think commercial fishermen can agree that they’re getting leaned on by all sides from down south and sometimes even in the state,” Meucci said. “I’m going to support this and I appreciate what the trollers are doing. They’ve got a tough road ahead of them and I think we can afford this.”

The assembly and staff could not remember another example of the municipal government supporting a legal action from an industry group in the past. Other assembly members were concerned about setting a precedent and wondered if there would be additional requests from the trollers association. That group says it is soliciting donations from other municipalities along with it’s membership.

The vote was 5-2 to approve the payment with Lynn and Jeigh Stanton Gregor voting no. The payment will come out of the assembly’s budget.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the troll fishery expected to open July 1st. It applies to federal waters, or water three miles off Alaska’s coastline.