Salmon Fishermen Sue to Block Federal Shutdown of Alaskan Fishery

By Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.
November 11, 2021 Updated: November 12, 2021

Salmon fishermen are suing the Biden administration because an “unaccountable” federal fisheries board plans to shut down federal waters in Cook Inlet in Alaska, a move that will put them out of business.

The legal complaint in Humbyrd v. Raimondo was filed Nov. 9 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska. Longtime salmon fishermen Wes Humbyrd, Robert Wolfe, and Dan Anderson are suing Gina Raimondo in her official capacity as secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

A regulation known as Amendment 14 that was proposed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, a body created under federal law, would permanently close the federal waters of Cook Inlet in Alaska to commercial salmon fishing. This federally controlled area spans 3 nautical miles to 200 nautical miles off Alaska and is referred to as the Cook Inlet Exclusive Economic Zone.

“In less than a month, the Rule will permanently close the commercial salmon fishery in Cook Inlet’s federal waters—not because the fishery is overfished or for any other conservation or environmental reason, but simply because the government finds it too bothersome to coordinate with the State of Alaska in managing the fishery,” the legal complaint states.

Michael Poon, an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento, California-based nonprofit national public interest law firm, is representing the fishermen.

The council is “an unconstitutional federal agency just pulling the rug out from under them,” not because the area is overfished or for any conservation-related reason, but because “it’s too much work to manage the fishery.”

This is the kind of “callous decision” one would expect when “people’s lives [are] being ruled by unfireable, unaccountable bureaucrats. And that’s what we have here, and that’s the argument we’re making to the court,” Poon told The Epoch Times.

Epoch Times Photo
Michael A. Poon, attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation. (Courtesy of Pacific Legal Foundation)

The regulation sprang from litigation, according to the Department of Commerce.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council first developed the salmon fishery management plan under the Magnuson–Stevens Act more than 40 years ago. The current plan excludes designated federal waters in Cook Inlet, which allowed the state of Alaska to manage commercial salmon fishing in the area.

But local commercial salmon fishermen and processors challenged the exclusion of the Cook Inlet economic zone from the salmon management plan.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held that the Cook Inlet economic zone must be included in the salmon management plan to comply with the Magnuson–Stevens Act. The Act requires “fishery management councils” to prepare fishery management plans for fisheries under their jurisdiction that require conservation and management.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council unanimously recommended that the department implement Amendment 14 to the salmon plan and federal regulations to comply with this decision. Amendment 14 specifically addresses the Cook Inlet economic zone and the commercial salmon fishery there.

Responding to the appeals court ruling, the council worked with the department, Alaska, and the public from 2017 to 2020 developing Amendment 14 and decided that closing the Cook Inlet zone to commercial salmon fishing “optimized conservation and management of the Cook Inlet salmon fishery when considering the costs and benefits of the viable management alternatives.”

“The closure is consistent with the Council’s longstanding salmon management policy to facilitate salmon management by the State of Alaska and avoids the introduction of an additional management jurisdiction and the associated uncertainty into the complex and interdependent network of Cook Inlet salmon fishery sectors,” the department stated on one of its websites.

Poon said the council runs afoul of the Constitution because its members are neither appointed as officers of the U.S. government, nor subject to appropriate oversight by the president or his officers.

The Constitution “requires that officers be removable by the President, so that he is able to take care that the laws be faithfully executed” and to provide a “powerful mechanism for oversight,” according to the legal complaint.

The council, Poon said, is “an unaccountable body … [that] exercises federal power.”

“When you have unaccountable officials exercising really significant power, you can expect things to go wrong. You can expect poor decisions to be made,” he said.

The Founding Fathers “recognized that we have to have clear lines of accountability that keep the people in charge, or otherwise, we no longer have a government that is of, by, and for the people.”

“You have to have people who are accountable to the people in order to have a government that functions and doesn’t become tyrannical,” he said.

The council has “significant authority to make or break people’s lives,” Poon said. “This regulation is going to wipe out our clients’ 50-year-long careers.”

The Commerce Department didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times by press time.

Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.