Judge rules against lawsuit seeking closure of Alaska chinook season

Judge Michelle Peterson of the United States District Court of Western Washington ruled against an injunction filed by the Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) to keep the Alaska chinook salmon season closed.

If the injunction had been granted, it would have prevented the summer chinook season from opening, but as a result of Peterson’s ruling, the season is expected to open as scheduled on 1 July.

In April, the WFC, a Washington state nonprofit conservation organization, filed a preliminary injunction to halt the fishery “until NOAA proves the harvest wouldn’t starve endangered southern resident killer whales.”

The month before, the WFC filed a lawsuit against NOAA seeking to “prevent overharvest of wild chinook in Southeast Alaska, protecting prey of the endangered orcas.”

Peterson wrote that the injunction circumvented the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the National Marine Fisheries Service, and challenged the legal representation of the WFC to explain why a federal court had jurisdiction.

Peterson’s ruling is a recommendation that will be heard by Judge Richard A. Jones, a supervisory judge on the U.S. District Court of Western Washington. The WFC has said it will file a formal opposition to the recommendation. The full lawsuit is expected to be heard 26 June.

“We’re in it for the long game,” WFC Executive Director Kurt Beardslee said. “This is one we’ve been watching for some time, and it just isn’t getting better. We were hoping that the impacts that are happening in Southeast Alaska in the troll fishery would change over time, but they haven’t.”

Chinook salmon serve as the main prey for the southern resident killer whales, which spend much of the year in the Puget Sound and Salish Sea region, and have seen their numbers plummet to less than 75 in recent years. According to the WFC, fewer than 3 percent of the chinook caught in Southeast Alaska originate in Alaskan rivers, with most of them coming from (and returning to) Washington and Oregon, and thereby depriving killer whales of prey.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Cass/Shutterstock


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