Council recommended measure responds to court ruling requiring Federal management of EEZ waters in Cook Inlet
NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comments on a proposal to amend the Fishery Management Plan for the Salmon Fisheries in the Exclusive Economic Zone off Alaska (Salmon FMP) to prohibit commercial salmon fishing in federal waters, also called the exclusive economic zone or EEZ, in Cook Inlet. The proposed action would not close any salmon fishing in State of Alaska waters.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council first developed the Salmon FMP under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act more than 40 years ago. The current Salmon FMP excludes designated federal waters in Cook Inlet. That has allowed the State of Alaska to manage commercial salmon fishing in the area.
In response to a court ruling that directed the Salmon FMP, and associated federal regulations, be amended to include the portion of the Cook Inlet EEZ that is currently excluded, the Council took final action at its December 2020 meeting, and voted to recommend Amendment 14 to the Salmon FMP.
Amendment 14 would implement federal management of commercial salmon fishing in the Cook Inlet EEZ and close this area to commercial salmon fishing as part of the Salmon FMP’s West Area. The West Area includes EEZ waters in the Gulf of Alaska west of Cape Suckling, as well as the Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, and Beaufort Sea. Commercial salmon fishing in the West Area outside of Cook Inlet is already prohibited to facilitate management by the State of Alaska, consistent with the Council’s longstanding salmon management policy.
This action resulted from litigation. Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishermen and processors challenged the exclusion of the Cook Inlet EEZ from the Salmon FMP. After appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court held that the Cook Inlet EEZ must be included in the Salmon FMP under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which requires fishery management councils to prepare FMPs for fisheries under their jurisdiction that require conservation and management.
The Council worked from 2017 to 2020 developing Amendment 14, ultimately concluding that closing the Cook Inlet EEZ to commercial salmon fishing optimized conservation and management of Cook Inlet salmon fisheries when considering the costs and benefits of the available management alternatives. This action takes the most precautionary approach to minimizing the potential for overfishing, avoids creating new management uncertainty, minimizes regulatory burden to fishery participants, and maximizes management efficiency for Cook Inlet salmon fisheries.
The drift gillnet fishery is the only commercial salmon fishery that operates in both state and federal waters of Cook Inlet. Commercial drift gillnet fishermen could continue to participate in the fishery within State of Alaska waters. The State could adopt management measures that provide additional harvest opportunities within State waters to make up for the EEZ closure.
The final rule implementing this action must be published in the Federal Register by December 11, 2021 as a term of the court’s judgment order. If approved, it is expected to be in effect for the 2022 fishing season.
How to Comment
The public comment period on Amendment 14 is open for 60 days from the date of publication of the Notice of Availability in the Federal Register. The public comment period on the proposed rule is open for 30 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register. NOAA Fisheries will consider all timely comments, whether on the notice of availability or the proposed rule, in the decision to approve, disapprove, or partially approve Amendment 14. Commenters do not need to submit the same comments on both the notice of availability and the proposed rule.
Comments must be received no later than July 6, 2021. Address comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Susan Meyer, and identified by FDMS Docket Number NOAA-NMFS-2015-0081. Comments may be submitted by any of the following methods:
o Electronic Submission: via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov
o Mail: P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668
A copy of the notice of availability and proposed rule to implement Amendment 14 is available online at the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region website: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/amendment-14-fmp-salmon-fisheries-alaska