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State Seeks Intervention in Cook Inlet Salmon Dispute

Anchorage, Alaska - The Department of Law has moved to intervene in federal litigation to ensure that the State of Alaska can continue to manage its fishing resources.

The lawsuit, by the United Cook Inlet Drift Association against U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, was filed in U.S. District Court on March 18. It seeks to have the federal government take over management of Cook Inlet's salmon fisheries through regulations that would trump the state's rules.

Specifically, the plaintiffs -- non-resident and resident commercial gill net fishermen -- want the federal government to limit the resident-only personal-use salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet in order to make more salmon available to commercial fishermen.

The group had unsuccessfully petitioned Secretary Locke for adoption of emergency federal rules to regulate salmon fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet, on the grounds that the State of Alaska's management is inconsistent with the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries and Conservation Act of 1976.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, acting on Secretary Locke's behalf, concluded that the drift association had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies in the state, as required by the federal fishery management plan, and that the salmon fishery does not occur "predominately within" the waters from three miles to 200 miles offshore, as the act requires for federal fisheries regulations to preempt state management.

The Department of Law has filed a motion with the court to intervene and become a defendant in the case, so that the state can represent its own interests in defending state management of its salmon fisheries.

"The desire by Alaskans to manage their own resources, particularly fish, was a driving force behind the push for statehood," said Attorney General Dan Sullivan. "The plaintiffs seek to interfere with Alaska's exercise of its sovereign state jurisdiction over its fish, waters and lands. That would strip the state of authority it gained under federal law, including the Alaska Statehood Act, and would return that authority to the federal government. We cannot allow that to happen."

The state's motion is at: http://www.law.alaska.gov/pdf/press/040610-motion.pdf

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