In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, endangered orcas swim in Puget Sound and in view of the Olympic Mountains just west of Seattle, as seen from a federal research vessel that has been tracking the whales. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, endangered orcas swim in Puget Sound and in view of the Olympic Mountains just west of Seattle, as seen from a federal research vessel that has been tracking the whales. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

City takes step toward opposing lawsuit threatening closure of Southeast Alaska king salmon trolling

CBJ follows other Southeast Alaska cities which cite negative economic impacts

This article has been updated to reflect that the resolution will now head to the full Assembly for a final vote.

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly took a step toward formal opposition to a lawsuit that has the potential to shut down the Southeast Alaska troll fishery of wild Chinook salmon this year.

At the Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday night, members unanimously voted to move a resolution to the full Assembly that would affirm the city’s opposition to a pending ruling in a lawsuit that seeks to halt Southeast summer and winter Chinook troll fishery, originally filed in 2019 by a Seattle-based environmental group, Wild Fish Conservancy. The resolution will now move to the Assembly for a final vote.

The group argued that the Southeast Alaska troll fishery is causing irreversible harm to an endangered population of orcas, called southern resident killer whales, that travel through Washington’s Puget Sound area, due to the whale’s lack of prey, specifically wild king salmon that are caught by the fishery.

The lawsuit claims the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association knowingly authorized the commercial salmon harvest in Southeast Alaska to reach levels that were sure to negatively impact the whale species, whose population is down to 73 whales, and in doing so the NOAA violated the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

The Assembly’s decision follows other Southeast Alaska cities like Petersburg, Stika and Ketchikan, which also passed similar ordinances opposing the suit in support of the Southeast Alaska troll fishery. Wrangell’s Assembly is also set to consider a resolution on the matter this week.

In early February Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a republican, said the state would pursue appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court if it threatens a shutdown.

‘I think it’s still important for us to show support for this industry,” said Assembly member Carole Triem who forwarded the resolution. “It’s a lot less visible in Juneau than it is in Petersburg, Wrangell, Stika and Ketchikan, the size and impact of the commercial fishing industry, but it is still a pretty big part of our economy.”

According to the resolution, Juneau is home to nearly 600 fishing and seafood processing jobs, including commercial salmon trollers, and represents approximately $27.4 million in wages annually, and across Southeast Alaska, the trolling industry has a total annual economic impact of approximately $85 million.

The city resolution argues that the results of a closure to the Southeast troll fishery will cause severe economic hardship to both the industry’s fleet — which derives an estimated 44% of its income from the Chinook catch — and the Southeast Alaska communities that benefit from it.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

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