Seattle University Law School, Seattle Journal for Environmental Law SJEL, Environmental Law, Alaska Public Trust Doctrine, Fishery, Alaska


The public trust doctrine’s concern for posterity necessitates an eco-system-based approach to fisheries management to ensure that ma-rine resources are left unimpaired for future generations. In Alaska, managing fisheries according to trust principles is a constitutional obligation, and in order to prevent the inconsistent management of migratory species, the same trust principles must be applied in the federal waters of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off Alaska, where fully half of the commercial fishing in the entire United States takes place. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Man-agement Act (MSA) currently governs fishing in the EEZ, and pro-vides two means of incorporating the public trust doctrine into EEZ fishery management: (1) through the statute’s national standards, implemented by regional councils, which create trust duties requiring that fisheries remain viable year after year, and (2) through the delegation or deferral of manage-ment authority to states with strong public trust doctrines. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has delegated or deferred management authority over several EEZ fisheries to the State of Alaska; those fisheries are currently being man-aged according to Alaska state law, even though they are lo-cated in federal waters. NMFS has indicated that objectives of the MSA are not inconsistent with Alaska’s state manage-ment strategy—including its constitutional public trust obli-gations. The public trust doctrine provides fishery managers with a means of expanding the scope of conservation strate-gies within the framework of existing regulations, and allows environmental plaintiffs to challenge commercial fishing activity that violates trust obligations by failing to protect the long-term health of both fisheries and marine ecosystems. All that is left is for the relevant actors in fisheries management to seize and apply the doctrine.