The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) may have to determine if the federal government should take over management of salmon fisheries, traditionally managed by the State of Alaska.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten said the state has been in charge of salmon fisheries since Alaska was founded in 1959.

The state controls waters three nautical miles from the shore; the federal government controls waters three to 200 nautical miles out. The federal government has deferred its salmon fishery management plan (FMP) to the State of Alaska, however because, as the council cited in a discussion, “The State is the authority best suited for managing Alaska salmon fisheries given the State’s existing infrastructure and expertise.”

A recent Ninth Circuit Supreme Court decision could change that, though.

The Upper Cook Inlet Drift Association (UCIDA) sued the state and the National Marine Fisheries service on the grounds the current management plan violates the Magnuson-Stevens Act that was established in 1970 and is the primary law that governs fisheries in federal waters.

UCIDA argued the NPFMC should set rules and regulations, not the state. The Ninth Circuit agreed the Magnuson-Stevens Act “clearly and unambiguously requires a Council to prepare and submit fishery management plans for each fishery under its authority that requires conservation and management.”

The council now has three alternatives:

  1. Take no action (which would not comply with the court's order).
  2. Cooperate with state management. 
  3. The federal government assumes management. 

While UCIDA doesn’t want the federal government to take charge, they’d like the state to manage under guidelines spelled out in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

“Why wouldn't the state want to manage for harvesting the surplus and making the most out of the resource like the constitution says to manage the resources for the maximum benefit of the people which is maximum sustained yield,” Martin said.

An advisory panel took public comment on the proposed changes. One man testified that letting the federal government control Alaska waters would be a “world-class bad idea.”

Cotten said following the language in the Magnuson-Stevens act won’t necessarily work for Alaska because the department manages based off escapement goals.

“The United States often decides before the season starts how many fish can be caught,” Cotten explained. “We can't do that with salmon. Part of the reason people were supportive in becoming a state is to retain and regain management authority over salmon and we do not want to go the other direction.”

The advisory panel will take the information from the public comment session and pass it along to the council.

Council members plan to take up the salmon fishery management plan issue on Saturday, Oct. 7.