Above: Southeast Alaska troller in Sitka Sound. Photo by Crossroads Photography.

The Sitka Conservation Society condemns the recent decision from Judge Richard Jones to uphold the magistrate’s recommendation to shut down Southeast Alaska’s king salmon troll fishery this summer. We support our small boat fishing families and fishing communities across Southeast Alaska and believe that the Wild Fish Conservancy’s lawsuit is irresponsible and arbitrary in its targeting of hook and line fishermen, and devastating to our communities. This is not conservation. The Wild Fish Conservancy’s approach ignores complexity, holism and the values of community-based sustainability that we work to uphold.

Blocking Southeast Alaskan trollers from their livelihood will not save the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, and will take time and energy away from comprehensive solutions. This misguided lawsuit is a direct attack on some of the most steadfast voices in the Southeast Alaskan conservation movement and will have significant, long lasting, and devastating impacts to local families across our region.

Local commercial fisherman Tad Fujioka. Commercial fishermen like Fujioka have time and time again been involved in supporting the sustainable management of fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Photo by Bethany Goodrich.

The Southwest Resident Killer Whale population and their food supply is under threat from multiple directions. To the west, out in the Gulf of Alaska and up in the Bering Sea, the Seattle, Washington-based industrial trawl fleet catches tens of thousands of Chinook salmon as bycatch. To the east, mines are being developed at an alarming rate at the headwaters of all of our mainland salmon rivers. There is not a single watershed on the mainland of Southeast Alaska that doesn't have current or proposed mining activity in the headwaters on the Canadian Side. To the south, industrialization, urban sprawl, pollution, and habitat loss are harming salmon and orcas across the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, climate change continues to increase ocean temperatures and lead to abnormal warming events that are impacting both fish survival rates and fish habitat productivity in myriad ways. King salmon, orca populations, and the people and communities that depend on healthy ocean ecosystems are being squeezed by pressure on all sides.

Instead of grappling with these complex challenges and collaborating with impacted communities to look for enduring solutions, the Wild Fish Conservancy has instead singled out the least resourced and arguably most sustainable commercial fishery in the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf of Alaska. The troll fishery in Southeast Alaska brings the finest quality of fish to the table by catching each fish on an individual hook and line - one at a time. These fish are harvested by individuals and family-owned fishing operations, often on boats under 40 feet. Many of these fishermen and fishing families are longtime conservationists involved in battles to protect fish habitat in both the terrestrial and marine environment, from the forest to the ocean floor. This lawsuit is creating animosity and opposition where there should be collaboration and shared interests. 

It is important to note that trolling and trawling are extremely different. Southeast trollers were essential in the fight to keep industrial trawlers out of Southeast Alaska due to their concerns regarding bycatch and the potential for significant sea floor impacts. Time and time again, they have helped protect the old growth stands of the Tongass National Forest, which serves as critical rearing habitat for all five species of Pacific salmon. Trollers are attuned to this environment, and have a direct stake in sustainable management of their fishery. 

Salmon has been intrinsic to community wellbeing and lifeways in this region for thousands of years. As a grassroots conservation organization based in Southeast Alaska, maintaining abundant salmon populations for current and future generations is of the utmost importance to us. Supporting healthy ocean habitat where orcas and other whale populations can thrive is also critical to broader ecosystem health. However, targeting the small-scale fishing fleet in Southeast Alaska will not save the threatened orca population that lives over 1,000 miles away in Washington state, and will harm staunch advocates for ocean health and fisheries sustainability – Southeast Alaskan trollers. We will never have comprehensive solutions to salmon declines and orca declines without acknowledging and addressing the broad harm caused to salmon habitat, salmon reproduction, and ocean and coastal ecosystems by urbanization, trawling, pollution and climate change. This misguided lawsuit only serves as a distraction to the greater issues at hand.

Commercial fisherman Eric Jordan sharing how fish are caught with Keet Gooshi Heen students at a 'We Love Our Fishermen' lunch. Every year through the Fish to Schools program, Southeast Alaskan fishermen like Jordan donate local, wild fish for Sitka school lunches. Photo by Bethany Goodrich.