Two regional tribal organizations have sued the federal government over failed Western Alaska salmon runs, reports Rhonda McBride from our flagship station KNBA.
The Association of Village Council Presidents and the Tanana Chiefs Conference have named two federal agencies as defendants in the case – the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Department of Commerce.
The lawsuit was filed on their behalf by Earthjustice.
AVCP and the Tanana Chiefs represent about a hundred tribes who live along the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, a land mass that stretches from Southwest Alaska to the Canadian border.
Jennifer Hooper, the Natural Resources Director for AVCP, says back-to-back seasons of fishery collapses have affected every aspect of life for people in the region.
“It’s just been a compounding situation of huge food security concerns and lack of salmon, which of course is protein and food. But more so, it’s the culture and the traditions that people have experienced for thousands and thousands of years.”
Salmon bycatch is at the heart of the complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court last Friday.
Bycatch are fish that are caught unintentionally and discarded, as fishing boats pursue other species.
In this case, the lawsuit targets factory trawlers in the Bering Sea that fish for pollock, a ground fish used in popular flaked fish products like fish sticks and surimi, a crab substitute.
Brian Ridley, who is Chairman of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, says the salmon crisis may soon reach a point of no return.
“If immediate, large scale action doesn’t take place by either the state or the feds, we might not even have a fishing resource left in our rivers. I mean, we’re darn near the level where I think endangered species could start coming into play. And that’s all we’re trying to do is not get to that point.”
The lawsuit claims federal fishery managers relied on outdated studies, when it set groundfish catch limits for the 2023 and 2024 seasons – and failed to consider what it calls “monumental changes” in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands ecosystems that have taken place over the last two decades.
The fishing industry has argued there’s no conclusive evidence that bycatch has caused the decline of salmon, but even so, has taken steps to reduce incidental catches.
NOAA Fisheries, which oversees the National Marine Fisheries Management Service, says it cannot comment on litigation.
Earthjustice is the same environmental law firm which recently filed suit on behalf of three other Southwest Alaska tribes to block the Donlin Gold Mine.
On Tuesday, members of the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition joined U.S. Arizona lawmakers U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) in launching an effort to create protections near the Grand Canyon.
They’re calling on President Joe Biden to use his authorities to designate the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument.
The proposal includes more than one million acres near Grand Canyon National Park.
Tribal representatives took part in a virtual press conference with the lawmakers expressing the need to protect the area, which is culturally and spiritually significant to tribes in the Southwest.
Timothy Nuvangyaoma is chairman of the Hopi Tribe.
“The creator gave us a gift and that gift is in the form of the Grand Canyon. That gift is not only for the tribal nations that have that intimate connection with it, but it’s a gift to the state of Arizona. It’s a gift to the United States. It’s a gift to the entire world. So, we do have to protect the beauty of the area many tribes call home…The Hopi Tribe supports the designation it protects the Grand Canyon’s physical beauty and natural and cultural resources. This designation is the highest priority to the Hopi people.”
The designation would protect the area from uranium mining. The area is also an important watershed for the Colorado River.
The Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition consists of representatives from more than a dozen tribes.
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