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Maine Lobstermen, Alaska Trollers Share Similar Threats

The Alaskan salmon troller fishery may seem entirely unconnected to the Maine lobster fishery but in fact the two fisheries have faced similar mortal threats from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

In 2020, an environmental organization called Wild Fish Conservancy sued NMFS, arguing that commercial fishing was depleting endangered orcas’ principal food source, Chinook salmon (the orca whale population is estimated to be 73 animals). The Wild Fish Conservancy argued that the agency’s biological opinion on the troller fishery was inadequate to slow the whales’ population decline and in addition, was deeply flawed. In 2022, a district judge found in the Wild Fish Conservancy’s favor. Then, in May, the district judge vacated the biological opinion supporting the commercial harvest, forcing cancellation of the summer and winter salmon seasons. NMFS must create an entirely new biological opinion.

But on June 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the district judge’s decision, allowing the fishery to open on as usual on July 1. The appeals court panel ruled that the district court judge was mistaken when he vacated portions of the biological opinion that allowed for commercial chinook salmon trolling in the region, even if the document was flawed. The court added that the plaintiffs — the state of Alaska and the Trollers Association — had shown that the impact of the closure on the commercial fishing industry likely outweighs the “speculative environmental threats” of keeping the fishery open while the biological opinion is redrafted, Seafood Source reported in late June.

In support of the Alaska trollers, MLA president Kristan Porter wrote a letter of encouragement to Amy Daugherty, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association.

Hello Alaska Trollers. My name is Kristan Porter and I am president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

I have been watching what is happening to you guys from the east coast. The situation you are all in is very similar to the one we are in. Basically it is the environmental groups trying to put hardworking fisherman out of business, using whales as a vehicle to do it.

Like you we pride ourselves on having one of the most sustainable fisheries in the U.S., making sure that we always have a fishery for the next generation. Without the Lobster Fishery here in Maine the coastal communities would disappear and our way of life would be gone. That is why we couldn’t go down without a fight.

We decided a few years ago that we would do whatever it took to save our fishery from being shut down by the ENGOs and NMFS, even going so far as suing the federal government. As you have probably heard we WON that case. This win did not come without some really dark days when we almost threw in the towel, but too much was at stake. We made some pretty bold decisions hoping the fishermen and the local communities would financially help us and they did. Now you too have won a huge victory in the courts. Congratulations on your stay. You now have time to come up with a permanent fix.

The reason I am writing you is to tell you DO NOT GIVE UP! I don’t know what your strategic options might be but explore them all and don’t leave anything on the table. Neither of us are out of the woods yet but we have definitely turned the tide in our favor. Our future looks a lot brighter than it did just a few weeks ago. Just remember, our way of life is worth fighting for...right to the end.

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