(CN) - Alaskan commercial salmon fishermen suffered a major setback today as the 9th Circuit ruled that a series of salmon fishing regulations did not violate their property rights.
Fishermen from the Upper Cook Inlet sued the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, over regulations which shortened the fishing season and placed more stringent limits on the number of salmon any fisherman may harvest.
From 1996 to 2002, the Upper Cook Inlet Salmon Management Plan chipped away at the length of fishing season and the size of areas available for fishing.
Many local commercial fishermen receive exclusive leases and permits over a plot of tidal or submerged land for ten-year periods. These permits, the complaint alleged, were devalued by the regulations.
Under the 5th Amendment of the state's constitution, Alaska must provide just compensation for any property it acquires using its powers of condemnation. The state should also compensate property holders when its actions diminish the value of their land, the fishermen argued.
While an Alaska federal court and the 9th Circuit largely agreed with the fishermen's' reasoning, they found no property interest existed in the permits.
The lease terms specifically state: "This lease does not limit the power of the State of Alaska... to adopt and enforce regulations or ordinances affecting, directly or indirectly, the activities of the lessee or its agents in connection with this lease or the value of the interest held under this lease."
"The parties clearly distinguish between a condemnation of the physical location covered by the lease... which results in compensation to the lessee, and the regulation of the lessee's 'activities... in connection with th[e] lease,'" Judge Susan Graber wrote for the three-judge panel.
Plaintiffs contractually waived their right to challenge the regulations when they signed their lease agreements, the court ruled.
Despite the contentious regulations, the number of commercial fishing permits issued in the Cook Inlet has remained roughly the same since the Upper Cook Inlet Salmon Management Plan took effect.