The Sitka Assembly is moving forward with plans to donate $25,000 to the Alaska Trollers Association (ATA), to support the organization’s ongoing legal fight against a Washington environmental group that hopes to shut down commercial fishing for king salmon in Southeast Alaska. And other organizations and locals are piling on, in anticipation of a lengthy – and costly –  appeals process.

Alaska trollers and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game intervened in a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service brought by the Wild Fish Conservancy in 2020. The Duvall, Washington-based group argues that commercial trolling in Alaska threatens an endangered population of killer whales in Puget Sound by depriving them of king salmon – their primary food source. And they’ve been successful in court: In December a US District Court judge issued a report that, to make a long story short, puts the Southeast king salmon fishery at risk of closure.  And that means a bigger hole in the troll association’s pocket, as it anticipates a lengthy appeals process. 

In early January, trollers drummed up support at the assembly table. And at its January 24 meeting, more folks came out of the woodwork in support of the organization. Roger Hames of Hames Corporation, which owns a major grocery store in Sitka, said he’d been asked to contribute $5,000 but he’d likely contribute $10,000. Tad Fujioka is chairman of the board for Seafood Producers Co-Op. He said the Alaska Trollers Association had requested around $48,000 from SPC, but employees asked them to donate more money from their profit sharing pool.  

“So even though ATA only asked for $48,500, the SPC board voted to contribute $59,000. It’s a investment in our company’s future. We can’t afford to lose access to troll salmon. And neither can Sitka,” Fujioka said. “So I encourage the assembly to be similarly farsighted, and make this investment alongside your citizen fishermen.”

And Jacquie Foss said it’s not just fishermen who have contributed to the trollers’ cause: The ATA is receiving a lot of individual donations, and contributions from municipalities like Craig, Port Alexander and Pelican. 

“I feel super just grateful to live in a place where everyone’s rallying around small boat fishermen. And so I know Sitka’s the biggest and it’s the most, and our ask might feel like a lot,” Foss said. “But a third of the fleet is here.”

Most assembly members said they’d support a $25,000 donation to the legal fund, and some said they’d be open to contributing beyond that amount in the future. Assembly member Tim Pike said he wanted to shift the conversation around ‘why’ the contribution was necessary.

“I heard it here a couple of times tonight, you know, ‘Trollers paid a bunch of taxes, so we owe it to them.’ I don’t see it that way,” Pike said. “I see it as a community investment. I see it as coming out of all of our pockets. I see it as something for all of us to contribute to. I don’t see it as ‘trollers have earned this.’ Okay, you’ve earned it because you are Sitkans, and you’re part of our economy. But I think it belongs to all of us, it doesn’t just belong to the trollers.” 

City administrator John Leach said they would be putting more resources toward supporting the ATA in the suit by putting pressure on the congressional delegation. He said staff and the city’s lobbyists had a meeting with staff from Senators Murkowski and Sullivan, and from Representative Peltola’s office last week to discuss options. 

“It was reiterated by all all staff members on the call that it’s a very important issue for all three members of the delegation,” Leach said. “They found legal counsel with MSA and the salmon treaty expertise to assist them and are coordinating with each other regarding a possible amicus brief that they could file jointly with the court, and said they intend to circulate a draft internally among themselves as early as this week.”

Along with a separate resolution supporting the Southeast troll fishery, the assembly approved the $25,000 donation unanimously. The ordinance will come before the assembly for a final reading at the next regular meeting on February 14.