State of Alaska files motion against feds over control of fishery management

State of Alaska files motion against feds over control of fishery management
Published: Sep. 1, 2023 at 6:55 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy made it clear at a press conference on Friday just how crucial a motion filed by the State of Alaska is for the future of fisheries conservation in Alaska.

Dunleavy, along with Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang, spoke to the press for about 15 minutes in Anchorage about the state’s motion to reject a lawsuit brought by the federal government over the state’s management of fisheries on the Kuskokwim River.

“What I want the people of Alaska to understand is we didn’t choose this fight, the feds forced it on us,” Dunleavy said. “The stakes obviously couldn’t be higher because this really has to do with management of our fisheries and potentially down the road game as well. [It] has to do with sovereignty over our waters.”

The state is arguing the federal government does not have the authority to manage the fishery on the Kuskokwim because the Kuskokwim River is not public land.

“This is a very important case for Alaska, strikes at the heart of what, in some cases, why Alaska actually became a state — to be able to manage its own resources was a big part of that, fisheries was a big part of that,” Dunleavy said.

At the announcement, Taylor reiterated Dunleavy by saying the State of Alaska didn’t ask for this conflict.

In May of 2022, the Biden administration sued Alaska after two years of conflicting management emergency orders related to fishery management along the Kuskokwim River.

“The bottom line is the federal government sued us to take away the right of Alaska to manage its fish and game, a right Alaska was guaranteed at statehood,” Taylor said. “If this illegal encroachment by the feds is allowed to stand on the Kuskokwim River, loss of state management on other rivers is soon to follow, like the Yukon or the Copper River. That is why it is absolutely necessary for the state to use every resource at its disposal and every argument available to defend itself from this lawsuit.”

The two entities’ conflicting orders are in response to a low salmon forecast, with the federal government’s order being more restrictive. For example, the state allowed subsistence fishing along the Kuskokwim River for any eligible Alaskan, but the federal order was restricted to only rural residents.

“Failure to prevail on this litigation will result in the ability to severely restrict the ability of most Alaskans to engage in subsistence fishing, including the majority of Alaskan Natives who now live in urban areas of the state. They will be prevented from going home to practice their culture and traditions by helping their families in their subsistence lifestyles,” Taylor said.

Dunleavy said the state is arguing that under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act Program, ANILCA, the federal government does not have the authority to completely replace a state management order and institute its own version of management.