Again, the State of Alaksa has been forced to stand up for itself against federal overreach by the Federal Subsistence Board (FSB). After two years of back and forth and trying to reach common ground, the FSB sued the State of Alaska to challenge the State’s management of fisheries on the Kuskokwim River. The dispute focuses on the implementation of the subsistence priority for fishery management, and more specifically, the applicability of a priority for “rural” subsistence for fishery management on the Kuskokwim. The State authorized fishing on the Kuskokwim limited to “subsistence users,” which, under state law, include a broad class of Alaska citizens. Under federal law, however, subsistence rights are limited to “rural” residents. The State defended its decision on the ground that the FSB’s short-sighted management conflicted with the rights of other users of the river and sought to assume State wildlife management authority well beyond the bounds of the Alaksa National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).
In a press release, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy—SCI’s 2023 Governor of the Year Award recipient explained that, “if this federal overreach is allowed to stand, it opens the door to the State losing its right to manage Alaska fisheries on significant waterways. Not only was fisheries management a right granted at statehood, but sustainably managing our fisheries is a principle enshrined in the Alaska Constitution.” If the federal government is successful in its lawsuit, it will set precedent to cede itself management of Alaska fisheries. Essentially, it would revert to fisheries management pre-statehood, a situation that hindered Alaska’s conservation efforts and was a motivating factor for Alaska statehood in the first place.
Alaska’s Attorney General summed up the issue simply: “The federal government is doing everything it can to seize fish and game management authority that rightfully belongs to the State as the State tries to fulfill its constitutional mandate to manage these resources for all Alaskans.” SCI will continue to watch this case at it progresses through the Federal District Court in Alaska and participate to ensure fish and wildlife management stays in the State’s hands.