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Trollers Ask City to Aid in Lawsuit

by Ariadne Will
Sitka Sentinel, May 27, 2020

In this 2013 aerial file photo, the Ice Harbor Dam
on the Snake Ri ver is seen near Pasco, Washington (Bob Brawdy / Associated Press). In a special report at Tuesday's Assembly meeting, the Alaska Trollers Association requested legal funding from the city to help ATA intervene in a lawsuit that threatens to close outside waters to Alaska's commercial trollers.

Sitka troller Matt Donohoe, president of ATA, said the lawsuit was filed by the Puget Sound-based Wild Fish Conservancy, an organization formerly known as Washington Trout. The suit aims to close outside waters to trolling, which would decrease salmon stocks available to Sitka's troll fleet.

The Wild Fish Conservancy has filed for an injunction to close federal waters to commercial trolling for Chinook effective July 1. The motion for an injunction is awaiting a decision by a judge in Seattle.

"Most of the king salmon is three miles offshore," Donohoe told the Assembly Tuesday night. If the injunction is granted it will severely impact Sitka's troll industry, he said.

Donohoe was joined by ATA board member Jim Moore at Tuesday's meeting.

Donohoe told the Assembly that to engage in the lawsuit, ATA board members raised $6,600 out of their own pockets to pay for an attorney. Donohoe and ATA are requesting additional funds from the City to help with costs the board still faces.

He said that one factor increasing the legal costs is the indication that the State of Alaska will not participate in the WFC lawsuit.

"We waited for the state to announce they were going to join the suit and they still have not," Donohoe said.

In the packet provided to the Assembly, ATA said too that they are better situated to fight the lawsuit than the state.

The chapter of NOAA Fisheries that is under scrutiny in WFC's suit represents the Pacific Northwest, not Southeast Alaska.

"Unfortunately, WFC is disputing the SEAK chinook quota permitted by the Pacific Northwest region of [NOAA Fisheries]," ATA said.

This suit comes on the heels of a treaty negotiation that has already hurt the Alaska fishing fleet, Donohoe said.

"We had just gone through a really difficult treaty negotiation where we gave up more than 7.5% of our king salmon," he said.

WFC says its lawsuit against NOAA Fisheries is aimed at protecting Southern Resident Killer Whales, which rely on Chinook as a food source. While some of these whale populations have been experiencing food shortages in recent years, the ATA points to studies showing that this is in large part from problems such as dams in the Columbia-Snake River watershed, a key Chinook spawning ground.

"The four lower Snake River dams kill millions of Chinook juveniles as they attempt to migrate downriver to the ocean," the Endangered Species Coalition has declared. "Smolt-to-adult returns for wild Snake River spring/summer Chinook salmon have declined by fourfold since the four lower dams were built."

In addition to the dams that interfere with Chinook habitat, ATA has identified the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, as endangering the Southern Resident Killer Whale populations.

PCBs are man-made chemicals that are stored in an orca's fat when consumed by the animals. The chemicals are present in Puget Sound chinook stocks, which certain SRKW pods feed on.

ATA and WFC agree that orcas in Puget Sound may consume up to 380 contaminated chinook per day, making the orcas that feed in the area susceptible to the effects of the chemicals. This includes endocrine and immune system disruption, which also can be passed on to orca calves through a mother's milk.

ATA says that the L Pod - the SRKW pod at the center of the WFC lawsuit - is suffering the highest PCB contamination of "any mammal on earth."

Though the population is suffering, these problems are not the result of troll practices in Southeast Alaska, Donohoe said.

ATA said in their written statement to the Assembly that Southeat Alaska chinook harvests are often blamed - incorrectly - for population decreases in the L Pod.

Donohoe, too, commented on this in his testimony.

"Here was this group saying that they want us to give up a lot more fish and a lot more territory for orcas that don't come up here and for fish that don't come up here," he said.

Ariadne Will
Trollers Ask City to Aid in Lawsuit
Sitka Sentinel, May 27, 2020

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