The Council took final action on Cook Inlet salmon by selecting Alternative 4 – Federal management with the Cook Inlet EEZ closed to commercial salmon fishing, as its preferred alternative. Following Secretarial approval, the Council’s action will amend the Salmon FMP by removing an exclusion from federal management that applies to a portion of Cook Inlet that overlaps with the EEZ. As a result of the Council’s action, the Cook Inlet EEZ will be closed to commercial salmon fishing. However, this action will not impact commercial salmon fishing with State waters (0-3 nautical miles from shore) where the commercial driftnet fishery will continue to operate in Cook Inlet and be managed by the State of Alaska. The driftnet fishery is the only commercial salmon fishery that operates in both state and federal waters of Cook Inlet.
Prior to final action, the Council had conducted initial review of the analysis for this issue in October 2020, at which time only three alternatives had been formally established. After that review, however, the Council clarified that including the Cook Inlet EEZ in the FMP’s existing prohibition on commercial salmon fishing for the “West Area” should be elevated as a distinct (fourth) alternative. A closure of the Cook Inlet EEZ to commercial salmon fishing was contemplated under Alternative 3 in the analysis, whereby such a closure would occur based on stock status or when information needed for management is absent. By adding Alternative 4 in October, the Council had clarified that it could also recommend an extended closure as a policy preference. Such an addition or modification of alternatives is commonly done between the initial and final review stages of a Council action.
Other alternatives considered by the Council included Alternative 2 (Federal management with specific measures delegated to the State of Alaska), and Alternative 3 (Federal management with no delegation to the State of Alaska). Alternative 1 (no action), while not considered a legal alternative, served to provide a baseline for comparison with other alternatives.
The Council initiated action on Cook Inlet salmon in 2017 after a Ninth Circuit Court ruling held that excluding federal waters of Cook Inlet put the Salmon FMP in violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The Court ruling was the product of a federal lawsuit by the United Cook Inlet Drift Association (UCIDA) and the Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund (CIFF). In December 2019, UCIDA/CIFF appealed existing development on the FMP amendment to federal court, and in January 2020, the Court established a deadline of Dec 31, 2020 for final Council action.
After initiating the action in 2017, the Council expended considerable effort trying to find management approaches to reconcile a federal fishery management system with the unique challenges of the salmon life history and adjacent salmon fisheries under State jurisdiction. The Council convened the Cook Inlet Salmon Committee, which was created to include stakeholders, including plaintiffs, in the development of an FMP amendment. The Committee’s recommendations were provided to the Council in June 2020, however, they were not further considered by the Council because they generally called for expanding the reach of the federal FMP into State waters, which is outside of the Council’s jurisdiction.
Now that the Council has taken final action, the National Marine Fisheries Service will conduct its review of the recommended amendment. Given the time required for this review and rulemaking, it is anticipated that the changes will take effect for the Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishery beginning with the 2022 fishing season.
Staff contact is Jim Armstrong.