Alaska sues federal government over Kuskokwim River management

Alaska sues feds over Kuskokwim River management

The state government of Alaska, U.S.A., has asked the courts to block federal management of fisheries on the Kuskokwim River, continuing a multi-year battle for control of the area.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden filed an injunction against the state in May 2022 to prevent it from allowing residents to partake in subsistence fishing on the Kuskokwim River. On 1 September, Alaska hit back, filing a motion in the U.S. District Court in Alaska to block the administration’s attempt to control the region.

“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 beyond the Kuskokwim, including the Yukon and Copper rivers,” Governor Mike Dunleavy said in a statement. “Not only was fisheries management a right granted at statehood, but sustainably managing our fisheries is a principle enshrined in the Alaska Constitution. The Biden administration has been growing more and more aggressive in its efforts to take over state management of our resources, and we have essentially been backed into a corner. Alaska has no choice but to fight for its rights and its citizens.”

The conflict began in 2021, when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Federal Subsistence Board (FSB) issued conflicting emergency orders for the Kuskokwim River. While the federal regulator wanted to limit subsistence fishing to rural residents, the state government wanted subsistence fishing to be open to all eligible Alaskans.

“For years, the state and federal government peacefully co-existed, with federal management relying on the state’s science and sustainability goals. But that ended when the federal government sued us over our actions taken to protect not only downriver subsistence fishermen but upriver as well,” Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor said. “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, including former rural Alaskans who are not allowed to participate in the federal subsistence fisheries.”

In its motion, the state argued that the area is not public land under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, meaning the federal government does not have authority to manage fishing there. The state also argues that if left in place, the Biden administration’s move would set a precedent, leaving the door open for the federal government to take over management of Alaska fisheries. State officials say that’s a violation of the compacts that created Alaska as a state.

“Management of our natural resources was a primary driver in Alaska for statehood,” Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang said.

Alaska officials opened the Kuskokwim River to commercial fishing on 31 August, but only one fisherman has the permits necessary to conduct commercial operations in the area.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock / Karel Stipek


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