Biden administration seeks injunction against Alaska to halt Kuskokwim River fishery
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday, 24 May, filed for an injunction against the U.S. state of Alaska to keep it from allowing all residents from taking part in a subsistence fishery on the Kuskokwim River.
The motions for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction were filed in a U.S. federal district court in Alaska. They’re the latest step in a lawsuit the federal government filed against the state, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and ADFG Department Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang.
According to the lawsuit, the Federal Subsistence Board determined that a 180-mile stretch of the Kuskokwim River that’s contained in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge should be closed for all “non-subsistence uses.” In addition, the FSB said it would permit only “local rural residents” to use the area for subsistence fishing.
On 13 May, four days before the lawsuit was filed, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order allowing for all residents to conduct subsistence fishing from the refuge’s boundaries at the mouth of the river to Aniak. The fishing will be allowed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on 1 June, 4 June, and 8 June. The nets used can’t exceed 60 feet in length, and can’t be operated more than 100 feet from the “ordinary high-water mark,” the order states.
“These set gillnet fishing periods are directed at non-salmon species and provided during the front-end closure to enable all residents to harvest fresh fish,” the order states. “Being short, bank-attached set gillnets, these fishing periods are intended to minimize king salmon harvest as much as possible. It is understood that some minor king salmon harvest will occur.”
The state said that 720 king salmon were fished during the three gillnet periods set last year.
In the lawsuit, the federal government claims that its jurisdiction takes priority over the state’s.
“The state’s actions threaten the conservation of the chinook [king] and chum salmon populations, usurp the rural priority, and reduce opportunities for those who are most dependent on the salmon resources of the Kuskokwim River for their physical, economic, traditional, and cultural existence – local rural residents,” the complaint states.
In a statement to SeafoodSource, Alaska Assistant Attorney General Grace Lee said state officials are still reviewing the lawsuit. However, the state made its decisions “based on a foundation of sound science,” Lee said.
“This ensures that there are adequate subsistence opportunities for Alaskans while adhering to the sustainability principle enshrined in the Alaska constitution,” Lee said. “It is unfortunate that the federal government is choosing to litigate instead of working together with the state to meet the subsistence needs of all Alaskans who have not only a nutritional dependency on these fisheries but have close cultural and traditional ties as well.”
Lee also said the state does not feel a restraining order is necessary, considering the federal government chose to file its lawsuit at the “last minute.”
“The state emergency orders that have been issued are for non-salmon species for subsistence users – this will not impact the sustainability of the salmon runs on the Kuskokwim and will ensure all family members with cultural ties to the Kuskokwim can fish for non-salmon species,” Lee said.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Joseph from Cabin On The Road