Fishermen fighting a court case that threatens to shut down commercial salmon trolling in Southeast Alaska are asking for help from the Sitka Assembly. When the assembly meets on Tuesday (1-10-23), it will consider whether to donate $25,000 to the Alaska Trollers Association legal defense fund. The ATA is a defendant and intervener in a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) brought by the Wild Fish Conservancy in the spring of 2020. 

The Wild Fish Conservancy is a Seattle-based environmental group that wants to halt the southeast troll fishery to protect an endangered population of killer whales in Puget Sound. They argue the fishery targets  an important food supply of the whales — Chinook salmon. Trollers say that other factors, like pollution, habitat loss, and vessel traffic are harming the orcas, not fisheries.

In December, a U.S. District Court in Washington issued a report  that would put the fisheries at risk of closure. The ATA is responding, but anticipates legal fees will exceed another $100,000 from what the organization was already paying for — hence the $25,000 request the Sitka Assembly is considering.

In other business, the assembly will discuss the city’s management plan for the 2023 summer cruise season. And it will consider, on final reading, whether to tweak new rules for tour businesses and vendors at Harrigan Centennial Hall. 

In early December, the assembly changed the process for obtaining commercial permits at the city building where cruise passengers are picked up and dropped off during the summer. The new rules required businesses to bid for a limited number of vendor and outfitter spots outside the building, instead of paying a flat fee, and established yearly permits for taxis and buses.

Shortly after adopting the new code, in late December the assembly drafted several modifications to the rules including increasing the permit duration for vendors from 1-3 years, and fully eliminating the permit fee for electric vehicles. But the group was split on whether to increase the annual permit fee for large commercial vehicles with 30 or more passengers from $1000 to $2000. That item narrowly passed on a 3-3 vote, but in order to pass tonight it would require majority support at the table.

The Sitka Assembly meets at 6 p.m. on Tuesday (1-10-23). Raven News will broadcast the meeting live, following Alaska News Nightly.