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Rural Alaska

Judge allows Sitka Tribe’s lawsuit over sac roe herring fishery to move forward

A crewman jumps from the fishing tender Barwell to the F/V Lady Kay after herring were pumped aboard the tender March 27, 2013, in Sitka Sound in Sitka, Alaska. (AP Photo/Daily Sitka Sentinel, James Poulson)

SITKA — An Alaska court upheld a lawsuit by a tribal organization against the state concerning the sac roe herring fishery and its protection as a subsistence resource.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Daniel Schally ruled to allow the Sitka Tribe of Alaska's lawsuit seeking protection of its herring subsistence fishing, The Daily Sitka Sentinel reported Wednesday.

The state and the Southeast Herring Conservation Alliance, a fishing industry association, argued the case should be dismissed.

The case is scheduled to be heard in July in Sitka.

During arguments in January, the Sitka Tribe said the Alaska Department of Fish and Game failed to follow a regulation requiring state biologists to “distribute the commercial harvest by fishing time and area” to ensure the amount of herring spawn required to meet the needs of subsistence harvesters in Sitka and the rest of the state.

The department argued it takes subsistence into consideration when it specifies the time and location of commercial fisheries and provides adequate opportunity for subsistence.

Fish and Game officials determine the commercial fishery opening based on herring distribution, the need to provide fisheries with good-quality and marketable herring and the necessity of a reasonable opportunity for subsistence, the department said in an affidavit.

Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tribal Council Chair Kathy Hope Erickson said in a statement that the organization was pleased with the ruling.

“We will continue in our steadfast manner as this litigation proceeds to protect the herring, not just for subsistence users and tribal citizens, but for all users of herring as a resource,” Erickson said.

Troy Thynes, a state commercial fisheries regional management coordinator, said the department needed to review the ruling with state attorneys before commenting.