The State of Alaska has filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the U.S. District Court in Alaska to reject claims made by the federal government that would strip Alaska of its right to manage fisheries on the Kuskokwim River. The dispute revolves around the implementation of subsistence priority for fishery management and the applicability of a priority for “rural” subsistence on the Kuskokwim. Conflicting management emergency orders issued by the Federal Subsistence Board and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have fueled the legal battle. The State argues that the federal government lacks the authority to manage the fishery and that its actions violate both the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. If successful, the Biden Administration’s lawsuit could set a precedent for ceding control of Alaska fisheries to the federal government, a situation that goes against the principles of Alaska statehood.
The conflict over fishery management on the Kuskokwim River has become a contentious issue between the State of Alaska and the Biden Administration. The State filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the U.S. District Court in Alaska to reject claims brought by the federal government that would strip Alaska of its right to manage fisheries on the river. This dispute arose after two years of conflicting management emergency orders and centers around the implementation of subsistence priority for fishery management, specifically the applicability of a priority for “rural” subsistence on the Kuskokwim River.
In 2021 and 2022, the Federal Subsistence Board (FSB) issued emergency special actions for the portion of the Kuskokwim River within the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) also issued emergency orders for the river during that time frame. The orders from the FSB and ADF&G conflicted, with the FSB’s order limiting subsistence fishing to rural residents only, while the ADF&G’s order opened it to any Alaskan eligible for subsistence fishing. This clash of management triggered the lawsuit by the Biden Administration’s Department of Justice against the State of Alaska.
The State’s primary argument is that the federal government does not have the authority to manage the fishery on the Kuskokwim River because it is not considered “public land” under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Furthermore, the State argues that the appointments to the Federal Subsistence Board violate the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, rendering federal orders that violate this clause ineffective. The State’s defense is supported by the 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost and other recent Supreme Court decisions.
Impact on Alaska
If the Biden Administration’s lawsuit is successful, it could have far-reaching consequences for Alaska’s management of fisheries. One major concern is the potential loss of the state’s right to manage other fisheries beyond the Kuskokwim River, including the Yukon and Copper Rivers. This would be a significant blow to Alaska’s sovereignty and the rights granted to the state at its inception.
Furthermore, this conflict poses a threat to Alaska’s sustainable fisheries management. For years, the state and federal government have coexisted peacefully, with federal management relying on the state’s science and sustainability goals. However, the federal government’s lawsuit undermines this collaborative approach and seeks to take control of fisheries management on state-owned waters. Alaska firmly believes that comprehensive management based on sound science, which protects subsistence and future fishery returns, is the key to sustainable fisheries. The federal government’s approach of picking winners and losers without considering future returns is seen as an assault on all Alaskans.
The State of Alaska is standing firm in defending its rights and the interests of its citizens. The state’s defense is supported by scientific evidence and its commitment to sustainability goals. Alaska firmly believes that it has the legal and constitutional authority to manage its own natural resources, including fisheries. The conflict between federal and state management has escalated, with the federal government suing Alaska for its actions to protect not only downriver subsistence fishermen but also upriver fishermen. The state sees this as an unwarranted intrusion on its constitutional mandate to manage resources for all Alaskans.
The Alaska Department of Fish & Game issued a statement emphasizing the importance of management of natural resources as a key driver for statehood. It asserts that Alaska’s right to manage fishery resources was guaranteed under the Statehood Compact with the federal government and reaffirmed under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). The federal government’s actions are seen as a breach of these agreements and a replacement of state management with federal management on state-owned waters. This differential treatment of Alaskan citizens, with some gaining priority access to resources while others are excluded based solely on their place of residence, runs contrary to the Alaska Constitution, ANILCA, and the principles of fairness and equity that Alaskans hold dear.
Statement from Alaska Department of Fish & Game
The Alaska Department of Fish & Game emphasizes that the management of natural resources was a primary driver in Alaska’s pursuit of statehood. The state’s right to manage fishery resources was enshrined in the Statehood Compact and reaffirmed under ANILCA. However, the federal government is now reneging on these agreements and imposing federal management on state-owned waters. This differential treatment of Alaskan citizens, where some have preferential access to resources based on their residence, while others with cultural and traditional ties are excluded, goes against the values and principles of fairness that Alaskans hold dear.
The Alaska Department of Fish & Game’s defense stands not just for the state government but for all Alaskans. It is unfortunate that the federal government has put the state in a position where it must defend its Constitution and its right to manage resources in the best interest of all its citizens. At a time of fiscal uncertainty, the state believes that resources could be better spent restoring depressed salmon runs and investing in sustainable management practices that benefit all Alaskans.
Questions and Answers
To address common queries about Kuskokwim fishery management, it’s important to provide answers to frequently asked questions. These questions should cover topics such as the history of the conflict, the legal basis for the state’s arguments, the potential impact on fisheries management statewide, and the implications for Alaskans who depend on these fisheries for their livelihoods. A comprehensive FAQ section will help clarify the complex issues surrounding this conflict.
Additionally, a map of the region would be helpful to provide context and a visual representation of the area in question. The map should clearly indicate the Kuskokwim River and its surrounding geography, highlighting the area affected by the fishery management conflict.
Alaska’s fight to confirm its control of fishery management on the Kuskokwim River is significant for the state and its citizens. The state’s right to manage its own resources, including fisheries, was a fundamental motivation for statehood. Allowing federal overreach in this matter could set a precedent that jeopardizes the state’s management rights and potentially extends federal control to other significant waterways, such as the Yukon and Copper Rivers.
Preserving the state’s control of fishery management is critical to sustaining Alaska’s remarkable fisheries. The state’s commitment to science-based and sustainable management ensures the protection of subsistence fishermen and the long-term viability of fishery returns. Alaska’s fight is not only about preserving its own rights but also about defending the rights and interests of all Alaskans. The state’s dedication to equitable resource management and its defense of the Alaska Constitution are crucial in this conflict with the federal government.
In an uncertain world, where fiscal constraints and environmental challenges loom large, the importance of sustainable management cannot be overstated. Alaska’s fisheries are not just a valuable resource; they are a way of life for many Alaskans. Preserving the state’s management rights ensures that future generations can continue to benefit from these bountiful waters. It is an ongoing battle that Alaska is determined to win for the sake of its citizens and the future of its fisheries.