The state of Alaska is being sued by its federal government over its management of salmon fishing on the Kuskokwim River.
According to the lawsuit, the state has been violating the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act by permitting the Alaska residents to participate in subsistence fishing of king and chum salmon even though there isn’t enough fish for all uses. They are engaging all the residents of Alaska irrespective of their address, while as per the rules of ANILCA, it is only allowed for “rural Alaska residents.”
On Tuesday, the lawsuit was presented in court in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.
The state and federal governments have been managing fisheries in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge for years, and it covers virtually all of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
Their rules had also clashed in previous scenarios, like in June of 2021 when the state declared the lower Kuskokwim to be open to subsistence gill nets while the federal managers preferred it to be closed for the protection of their resources.
The interim director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Kevin Whitworth, believes the lawsuit to be highly beneficial for the betterment of tribes and rural residents. His words read, “The fish commission is heartened to see the federal government basically stand up to protect salmon and the importance of federal management.”
The state department’s spokesperson, Assistant Attorney General Grace Lee, also shared her views and expressed that the state’s management is based on sound science and input from local stakeholders. Her statement via email reads, “This ensures that there are adequate subsistence opportunities for Alaskans while adhering to the sustainability principle enshrined in the Alaska Constitution.”
This issue has been brewing for a few decades. The primary problem is the government’s belief that rural residents’ subsistence needs to be put first in times of scarcity. Unfortunately, State law doesn’t allow a rural preference, as the state Supreme Court decided in 1989.
To overcome this issue, the U.S. government took over the management of fishing on federal land and adjacent rivers. Unfortunately, it ends up with the delegation of most of the command to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The lawsuit declares Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang and his department defendants.