The entire structure of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is being questioned in a lawsuit filed by Alaska fishermen Wes Humbyrd, Robert Wolfe and Dan Anderson.
This lawsuit was filed in response to the National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision to incorporate Cook Inlet under the jurisdiction of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. This decision, which was made on Nov. 3, would bar commercial salmon fishing in the federal waters in Cook Inlet.
This decision was made in order to make sure that fisheries management policies in Cook Inlet were consistent with the ones required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Management Act.
Humbyrd, Wolfe and Anderson are all commercial salmon fishermen who have fished Cook Inlet for decades. The three of them claim that they will face significant financial setbacks if they are no longer able to commercially fish there, according to the complaint that Humbyrd, Wolfe and Anderson have filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska.
Before this decision was made, the entirety of Cook Inlet was managed by the State of Alaska. The complaint alleges that the National Marine Fisheries Service is closing fishing in Cook Inlet because it finds it “too bothersome to coordinate with the State of Alaska in managing the fishery.”
The plaintiffs argue that a significant amount of their catch is from federal waters in Cook Inlet and if they have to fish in state waters they will have more competition, the salmon will be less valuable and the fishing gear they use — drift gillnets — are better suited for open water, according to the complaint.
The goal of the lawsuit is to dismiss Amendment 14, which allows the National Marine Fisheries Service to incorporate Cook Inlet into the jurisdiction of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, according to Michael Poon, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.
“Amendment 14 is especially egregious, not only because it is incredibly destructive, but because its impetus is at [its core] the North Pacific Council’s unwillingness to do its job,” Poon said. “If we’re going to have the government manage fisheries at all, they should actually manage fisheries. But irrationality, callousness and incompetence is what we can expect when unaccountable and unfireable bureaucrats rule over us.”
The complaint criticized the entire structure of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.
The plaintiffs allege that even though the NMFS evoked Amendment 14, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council “essentially” made this decision because the National Marine Fisheries Service bases its policy on the recommendations of the council.
In the complaint the plaintiffs claim that the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is a policy making group in practice, so the council members should be appointed by the president and be held to the standards of presidential appointees.
There are 11 voting members on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. One is the regional administrator, who is appointed by the National Marine Fisheries Service Deputy Assistant Administrator of Regulatory Programs. The Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife all sit on the council. The seven other members of the council are nominees proposed by the Alaskan governor and the Washington governor and approved by the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Commerce. They are later appointed by the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, who leads the NMFS.
Since these are not presidential appointees, they are not held accountable to the same standards that the plaintiffs believe they should be. The plaintiffs argue that the decisions made by the NMFS, including the one to prohibit commercial salmon fishing in the federal waters in Cook Inlet, are unconstitutional.
The National Marine Fisheries Service does not comment on ongoing lawsuits.