NOAA Fisheries issued a final rule to implement Amendment 14 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Salmon Fisheries in the Exclusive Economic Zone off Alaska (Salmon FMP). The Final Rule, which filed in the Federal Register today, prohibits commercial salmon fishing in the federal waters of Cook Inlet. This area is 3 nautical miles to 200 nautical miles off Alaska and is referred to as the Cook Inlet Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The measure will be in place for the 2022 Cook Inlet EEZ commercial salmon fishery. It affects the Cook Inlet drift gillnet fishery—the only commercial salmon fishery that operates in the Cook Inlet EEZ. This action closes a portion of the historically used fishing area for the Cook Inlet drift gillnet salmon fishery. It does not close salmon fishing in state waters. The Cook Inlet drift gillnet fleet can continue to operate in state waters.
The State of Alaska will continue to manage Cook Inlet salmon fishery sectors within state waters and may choose to modify management policies in future seasons in response to this federal action.
Result of Litigation
This action resulted from litigation.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council first developed the Salmon FMP under the Magnuson-Stevens Act more than 40 years ago. The current Salmon FMP excludes designated federal waters in Cook Inlet. That has allowed the State of Alaska to manage commercial salmon fishing in the area.
Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishermen and processors challenged the exclusion of the Cook Inlet EEZ from the Salmon FMP.
After appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the Cook Inlet EEZ must be included in the Salmon FMP to comply with the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The Act requires Fishery Management Councils to prepare FMPs for fisheries under their jurisdiction that require conservation and management.
The Council unanimously recommended and NOAA Fisheries is implementing Amendment 14 to the Salmon FMP and Federal regulations to comply with this decision. Amendment 14 specifically addresses the Cook Inlet EEZ and the commercial salmon fishery that occurs there.
The Council worked with NOAA Fisheries, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the public from 2017 to 2020 developing Amendment 14. It was ultimately concluded that closing the Cook Inlet EEZ 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.
In December 2020, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to recommend Amendment 14 to the Salmon FMP in response to the Ninth Circuit ruling.
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.
Measure in Place for the 2022 Season
The agency made no substantive changes from the proposed action in the final rule. The final rule goes into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, and will affect the 2022 Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishing season.