ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a state commercial fishing organization that challenged a decision to move several southern Alaska salmon fisheries from federal to state management.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday overturned the decision by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The ruling means the case will go back to U.S. Alaska District Court and that federal fisheries policymakers will have to work with state managers on a new management plan, The Alaska Journal of Commerce reported (http://bit.ly/2cs4PkT).

The United Cook Inlet Drift Association sued over the council’s 2011 decision to remove Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and Alaska Peninsula salmon fisheries from the federal fisheries management plan. The 2013 suit was initially rejected by District Court Judge Timothy Burgess. But the group appealed, arguing that the state’s plan doesn’t adhere to the same high standards as federal rules.

Federal fisheries management plans must be in line with the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which require fisheries managers to consider optimum yield, best available science, equitable allocations and community health among other factors.

The Cook Inlet group called the appeals court ruling a win for Alaska’s fishermen and the health of the resource.

“With the use of standards described in the MSA, such as conservation, sustainability, prevention of over fishing, and by utilizing the best scientific information available, the salmon resources of Cook Inlet will be sustainable and bountiful for all Alaskans who rely on Cook Inlet salmon for recreation, healthy food, and jobs, for generations to come,” the group said in a statement.

The Cook Inlet group argued that management by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game leads to massive amounts of unharvested salmon in Cook Inlet. The group’s executive director, Erik Huebsch, said the state hasn’t been effective at addressing invasive species, which have plagued streams and lakes in the Mat-Su Borough.

Huebsch said the group does not want Cook Inlet to go under federal management, but instead the fishermen want the North Pacific council to develop a state management plan that complies with the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Sam Cotten, Fish and Game commissioner and a member of the council, said the court’s decision goes against what both the state and the federal government want for the region’s salmon.

“We do not need the U.S. government’s help in salmon management,” Cotten said. “We obviously have to get this resolved. The U.S. doesn’t want to manage salmon in those waters.”

Cotten said he has been in discussions with members of the National Marine Fisheries Service on how they plan to move forward with the case.

“I understand the interest on part of the plaintiffs in trying to improve their situation, but I was never convinced that even if they won it would improve their situation,” Cotten said. “What we don’t want to have happen, is a situation could come up where you would have to close those waters, and the very people asking for this decision would be impacted the worst by it.”


Information from: (Anchorage) Alaska Journal of Commerce, http://www.alaskajournal.com