Assembly Greenlights $25,000 to Support Trollers’ Legal Fight

The Sitka Assembly is moving forward with plans to donate $25,000 to the Alaska Trollers Association (ATA), to support the organization’s ongoing legal fight against a Washington environmental group that hopes to shut down commercial king salmon fishing in the Southeast. from Alaska. And other organizations and locals are piling on, in anticipation of a lengthy and costly appeals process.

Alaska trollers and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game intervened in a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service filed by the Wild Fish Conservancy in 2020. The Duvall, Wash.-based group argues that commercial trolling in Alaska threatens an endangered orca population in Puget Sound by depriving them of king salmon, their primary food source. And they’ve been successful in court: In December, a US District Court judge issued a brief that, long story short, puts the southeastern king salmon fishery at risk of closure. And that means a bigger hole in the troll association’s pocket, as it anticipates a lengthy appeals process.

In early January, the trollers rallied around the assembly table. And at their meeting on January 24, more people came out of the woodwork to support the organization. Roger Hames of Hames Corporation, which owns a major grocery store in Sitka, said he had been asked to contribute $5,000 but he would likely contribute $10,000. Tad Fujioka is Chairman of the Board of the Seafood Producers Cooperative. He said the Alaska Trolley Association had requested about $48,000 from SPC, but the employees asked them to donate more money from their profit-sharing fund.

“So even though ATA only requested $48,500, the SPC board voted to contribute $59,000. It is an investment in the future of our company. We cannot afford to lose access to trolling salmon. And neither is Sitka,” Fujioka said. “So I encourage the assembly to have a similar vision of the future and make this investment together with its fishing citizens.”

And Jacquie Foss said it’s not just fishermen who have contributed to the trollers’ cause: the ATA is receiving a lot of individual donations and contributions from municipalities like Craig, Port Alexander and Pelican.

“I feel super grateful to live in a place where everyone is united around small boat anglers. And I know Sitka is the biggest and it’s the most, and our request may seem like a lot,” Foss said. “But a third of the fleet is here.”

Most assembly members said they would support a $25,000 donation to the legal fund, with some saying they would be open to contributing beyond that amount in the future. Assemblyman Tim Pike said he wanted to change the conversation about ‘why’ the contribution was needed.

“I heard it here a couple times tonight, you know, ‘The trolls paid a bunch of taxes, so we owe them.’ I don’t see it that way,” Pike said. “I see it as a community investment. I see it as coming out of all our pockets. I see it as something we all have to contribute to. I don’t see it as ‘the trollers have earned this’. Okay, you’ve earned it because you’re Sitkans and you’re part of our economy. But I think it belongs to all of us, not just the trollers.”

City Manager John Leach said they would put more resources into supporting the ATA in the lawsuit by lobbying the congressional delegation. He said city staff and lobbyists met last week with staff from Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan, and from Rep. Peltola’s office to discuss options.

“All of the staff members reiterated on the call that this is a very important issue for all three members of the delegation,” Leach said. “They found MSA legal counsel and salmon treaty expertise to help them and are coordinating with each other regarding a possible amicus brief that they could file with the court, and said they intend to circulate a draft internally among themselves as soon as possible. soon as this week.”

Along with a separate resolution supporting the southeastern troll fishery, the assembly unanimously approved the $25,000 donation. The ordinance will go before the assembly for a final reading at the next regular meeting on February 14.