Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Government in Subsistence Fishing Rights Lawsuit Against Alaska

Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Government in Subsistence Fishing Rights Lawsuit Against Alaska

In a case that was important to subsistence fishing rights, the federal government won and stopped the state of Alaska from doing something for good.

Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason said that state fisheries managers can’t let people fish for salmon on a long part of the Kuskokwim River if their orders go against federal management decisions that are meant to protect fish for subsistence use.

The fight started in 2021, a year with very few chinook salmon. On 180 miles of the Kuskokwim, where it flows through the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta National Wildlife Refuge, the government Subsistence Board and other government officials made it very hard to fish for salmon. They stopped non-subsistence harvesting in that part of the river. They also put limits on when and what kind of fishing gear people could use for survival fishing and only let people in rural areas do it.

The state Department of Fish and Game ordered all Alaskans to participate in the limited harvest, not just legally qualified subsistence users.

Not too different a fight broke out again in 2022. A lawsuit was filed by the federal government, the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, the Alaska Federation of Natives, and others to protect the rights to subsistence fishing that Congress gave people in a 1980 law. The name of the case is USA v. Alaska.

In 2022, Judge Gleason issued a temporary stay that stopped the state from giving orders that were at odds with each other. Friday, she put an end to it. She said that the state’s different fishing rules would make it harder for the U.S. government to enforce the federal law that protects survival rights, since federal law is more important than state rules.

No matter if the rivers in Alaska flow through government refuges or not, the state says it controls fishing there. It says that the Alaska Constitution tells it to take care of fish so that all Alaskans can gain.

If we look at past cases of support, we can tell that the state will appeal. People who fight for food stamps have won a number of cases against the state, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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