A ‘Motion to Intervene’ was filed in Sitka by the Southeast Herring Conservation Alliance (PHOTO/ROSE)

A non-profit group wants to join the Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s subsistence herring lawsuit — as an opponent. The Southeast Herring Conservation Alliance represents commercial herring interests. The organization filed a motion to intervene in the Tribe’s lawsuit against the state Department of Fish & Game and the Board of Fish on Monday (1-14-19). KCAW’s Katherine Rose reports.

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The Southeast Herring Conservation Alliance wants to join the lawsuit between the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the state over alleged mismanagement of the herring fishery  They’ve asked to step in as an opponent to the Tribe, and a party defendant. The non-profit group filed the motion to intervene on January 15.

Juneau lawyer Michael Stanley, the legal representative for the group, says ADF&G and the Board of Fisheries have implemented a number of restrictions on the commercial fishery in the past — restrictions that favor the subsistence fishing community over the commercial fleet — and the Herring Conservation Alliance believes an injunction on the fishery wouldn’t be necessary to protect subsistence users.

“The real gist of the tribe’s complaint as we read it is that there’s not a reasonable opportunity for subsistence use of herring in Sitka Sound,” Stanley said. “The Alliance believes there is a reasonable opportunity for subsistence use and that the priority for subsistence use is satisfied and the commercial fishery is not a threat to those resources.”

The Sitka sac roe herring fishery closed early in 2018, 8300 tons short of meeting the commercial quota, and subsistence users reported record low harvests. Despite the shortfall, the state announced an even larger commercial herring quota for this spring. , That prompted STA to take action: the Tribe filed suit on December 11, calling for the state to hold off on the 2019 herring fishery until they develop a new management plan.

Stanley says the Alliance believes an injunction on fishing will be detrimental to the commercial fleet, and it’s therefore in their interest to participate in the lawsuit as a defendant.

“The Alliance believes the kind of relief the Tribe is seeking would have a devastating effect on this members interest- the permit holders, the vessel owners, the tender men, the pilots. All the people who rely on the commercial fishery for income would be hurt, could be hurt pretty badly, depending on how broad the relief was granted.”

And, he says, they can’t just rely on the state when it comes to protecting commercial interests.

“You certainly could just rely on the state to defend itself, but there’s  issues and perspectives that the industry folks can bring to the resolution of an issue.”

In a motion for expedited consideration, the Southeast Herring Conservation Alliance has requested the court make its decision no later than January 23. If the court decides to grant the group permission to intervene in the lawsuit, they will become a party defendant in the Tribe’s case against the state.

The hearing for the preliminary injunction is scheduled for February 19th and 20th at the Sitka Courthouse, 8:30 a.m., with Judge Trevor Stephens presiding.