A sport fishing industry group has asked a state judge to block some recent restrictions on king salmon fishing in Southeast.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Ketchikan Superior Court, says the state Board of Fisheries and the Department of Fish and Game didn't give the public enough notice.
But it's economics that spurred the lawsuit. Lodge and charter boat owners said the new rules will cost them individually tens of thousands of dollars in refunds this year. Unhappy customers this year will lead to losses in future repeat business, affecting the Southeast economy, businesses said.
``We can't afford to spend the money it takes to bring the people here the first time unless they come back again and again,'' said Mike Holman, the Ketchikan attorney and lodge and charter boat owner who is handling the lawsuit.
``The problem with these regulations is it's going to cause people not to come back,'' Holman said.
Waterfall Resort on Prince of Wales Island spends more than $400,000 a year in marketing to gain 200 new customers a year, just 10 percent of the company's total customers, managing partner Kenneth Dole said in an affidavit.
The Alaska Sportfish Council has asked Superior Court Judge Michael Thompson to restrain the state from implementing some of the regulations while the case is heard. A hearing was scheduled for 1:15 p.m. today, the court said.
Fish and Game officials are meeting with the attorney general's office today and said it was premature to comment on the lawsuit.
The Board of Fisheries created the management plan, which includes a menu of restrictions, to deal with quotas under the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the United States and Canada. A new agreement bases those quotas on complicated computer models that estimate the abundance of stocks.
Fish and Game, responding to a much lower quota of king salmon this year, cut the daily bag limit from two kings to one, and the nonresident annual catch from four kings to two.
But what really alarmed lodges and guides was a recent emergency order limiting king salmon charter boats to four lines in June if fish are kept, and prohibiting nonresidents and any guided anglers from keeping kings on Wednesdays in June and July.
The order also blocks those anglers from keeping kings in August and September, and stops them from keeping kings in some areas near Sitka and Prince of Wales Island for much of July.
The lawsuit objects to the Wednesday restriction, the fishing line limit, and the different rules that would apply to nonguided and guided Alaskans. Attorney Holman sees the last provision as a state constitutional issue of equal access to resources.
``People who choose not to own boats and hire a guide and vessel shouldn't be treated any differently than those who own boats,'' he said.
Lodge and charter owners such as Ron Moyer of Ketchikan said the four-line limit would add to their costs while not saving any fish, because they'll just hire more boats and crew so all their customers can fish.
The restriction on keeping fish on Wednesdays hurts customers who typically have booked two- or three-day trips and which include that day, charter owners said.
Catch and release doesn't please visitors who paid $2,000 for a brief vacation, lodge owners said. And kings are the only fishing action in June.
The basis of the lawsuit is that the Board of Fisheries, when it met in February in Sitka, didn't let the public know it was considering these restrictions, which could apply in times of low abundance.
And Fish and Game didn't ask for public comments on the restrictions imposed in an emergency order last week, the lawsuit says. Both of those actions go against the state Administrative Procedures Act, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also alleges that it's illegal for Fish and Game to make decisions, through emergency orders, that allocate fish among different types of fishermen such as guided and nonguided anglers, or residents and nonresidents.
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