Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s suit over state’s herring management is resolved

Demonstrators gathered outside of Sitka Courthouse earlier this week as a commercial herring fishery is slated to begin. (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 resolved and will not go to trial this summer.

Sitka Tribe of Alaska filed suit against Fish and Game in 2018 over the department’s management of the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery. On April 26, Judge Superior Court Judge Daniel Schally signed the order vacating the trial, which had been 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 Sitka Tribe of Alaska.

Judge Schally’s third and final ruling last month came down in favor of the state. Attorneys representing Sitka Tribe of Alaska argued that Fish and Game 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 Fish and Game to use the “best available information.”

On Tuesday, Sitka Tribe of Alaska issued a press release expressing disappointment in the third ruling.

“STA is considering its options and the implications of this decision going forward,” General Manager Lisa Gassman said in the press release. “Sitka Tribe of Alaska 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.

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