BER FLOAT REELS

A lot of new faces are coming to the table at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and not a lot of them are happy about it.

Fishermen who had never previously been involved with the council now have to show up to have a hand in how their fisheries will be incorporated into a federal fishery management plan.

The council, which regulates federal fisheries off the coast of Alaska, on Thursday started in on the topic of the salmon plan for Cook Inlet, part of the Alaska Peninsula and part of Prince William Sound near Cordova.

After removing the three areas from the plan by amendment in 2011, effectively exempting them from federal oversight and delegating entirely to the state despite occurring partially in federal waters, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court ruled that the move was illegal.

Now, the council is having to initiate the process of revising the salmon FMP to include the net areas, which is likely to take years. The State of Alaska is appealing the decision with a petition to the Supreme Court, but the court has not decided whether to take up the case yet.

At the Thursday meeting, the council — which didn’t agree with the court’s decision but has to start addressing anyway — got into the complex questions the plan will have to answer.

The council didn’t make an attempt to answer any of the questions at the meeting Thursday, but passed a motion solidifying the preliminary purpose and need, a number of alternatives and forming a stakeholder workgroup, which would decide its scope and agenda at future meetings.

The motion will require council staff to focus on those questions to bring a more thorough analysis back to the council. The stakeholder committee, or committees, will not be formed until after the council gets its next review of the topic.

One of the first hurdles is that the council doesn’t usually regulate directed salmon fisheries. As anadromous fish, most salmon are harvested within three nautical miles of shore in terminal fisheries, which are in the state’s jurisdiction.

However, under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the council is required to manage harvested species throughout their ranges. For salmon, that would include state waters and potentially in-river waters, where essential salmon habitat is found.

The council wrangled with the question of whether they could preempt state management, which is provided for in law, at the meeting Thursday.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration legal counsel Lauren Smoker…

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