A resolution to protect the Southeast Alaska troll fishery passed in the State Legislature on March 20th by a unanimous vote. House Joint Resolution 5 calls on state and federal governments to defend Alaska fisheries from a lawsuit filed by the Washington State-based environmental group, the Wild Fish Conservancy.
The suit seeks to stop the Southeast troll fishery over what the Conservancy sees as a threat to the Southern Resident killer whales in the Puget Sound. The organization’s position is that terminating Southeast’s king salmon troll fishery might allow Chinook salmon to migrate back down the coast through key hunting grounds of the Southern Resident killer whales.
The Southern Residents exclusively eat fish. They are also genetically, behaviorally, and even culturally distinct from other groups of killer whales. But according to NOAA Fisheries, the population has been in decline for decades; now numbering in the 70s.
The resolution to support the troll fishery was introduced by freshman Rep. Rebecca Himschoot of Sitka, who sits on the House Special Committee on Fisheries. It received support across party lines in the Alaska Senate. Himschoot lauded the resolution’s overwhelming bipartisan support in the latest vote. “I hope the Wild Fish Conservancy reconsiders pursuing this misguided lawsuit and instead starts addressing the factors impacting the Southern Resident Killer Whales in their own backyard,” she said.
The Senate also heard from stakeholders from the troll fishery. Tim O’Connor is the Mayor of Craig and a commercial troller. He said the closure of the fishery would “(…) devastate the troll fleet and have a significant economic impact on the region.”
Many local governments in Southeast Alaska have passed resolutions opposing the lawsuit, including Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan, Sitka, and Juneau.