A group of local advocates known as the ‘Herring Protectors’ protest the state’s management of the Sitka Sound Sac Roe Herring Fishery. (KCAW/Berett Wilber)

After several years of litigation, the case between the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Board of Fisheries has been legally resolved and will not go to trial this summer. 

Sitka Tribe filed suit against ADF&G in 2018, over the department’s management of the Sitka Sound Sac Roe Herring Fishery. On Monday (4-26-21), Juneau Judge Daniel Schally signed the order vacating the trial, originally scheduled for June 1.

Over the last year, Schally made three separate rulings in the case that will affect how the fishery is managed in future years. 

Last March, Schally ruled that the state had not adequately documented how it was ensuring ‘reasonable opportunity for subsistence’ in its management of the commercial fishery. In November, he ruled that the state had failed to clearly show how it considered the “quality and quantity” of herring spawn when making management decisions. Both rulings were wins for STA.

Judge Schally’s third and final ruling last month came down in favor of the state. Attorneys representing STA argued that ADF&G is required under certain clauses of the Alaska State Constitution to use the “best available information” when making management decisions about the fishery. They argued that the state had not used the “best available information” during the 2018 season when it failed to provide a subsistence harvest data report and a scientific study reviewing the state’s model to the Board of Fish. Judge Schally ruled that there is no constitutional requirement for ADF&G to use the “best available information.” 

On Tuesday, STA issued a press release stating that the Tribe had “prevailed overall” in the case, but expressed disappointment in the third ruling. General Manager Lisa Gassman said, “STA is considering its options and the implications of this decision going forward. STA has not yet decided whether to appeal the court’s ruling or seek changes from the Alaska Legislature or Board of Fisheries to explicitly require ADF&G to use the best available information.”

Nevertheless, the Tribe considers the principal litigation resolved, and has asked the court to enter final judgment in the case.