Letters to the Editor

Posted: Monday, January 13, 2003

Alaska's sportfishing industry definitely 'Joe Fisherman'

It appears that some people believe that the "Alaska Joe Fisherman" term which has been bounced around lately does not include the Alaska sportfish industry.

It appears that the "Alaska Joe Fisherman" term needs to be defined.

Alaska's Joe Fisherman is only a common user of Alaska's public trust fisheries. Our state Supreme Court has made this definition, and it is not really up for public debate. Alaska's "Joe Fisherman Common Users" are all public fishers except those in the commercial fishing industry. Alaska removed the commercial fishing industry from common use (or Joe Fisherman status) with its Limited Entry Act.

The Alaska sportfish industry is a "Joe Fisherman" common user and therefore must be legally granted equal access to Alaska trust fisheries. Alaska's professional sportfishing is similarly situated to nonprofessional sportfishing with reference to the subject matter and purpose to be served by the law or regulation,.

Professional sportfish access does everything the same as nonprofessional sportfish access, the only difference is the amount of success. That success can only be measured by what is in a fisherman's head. An attempt to separate professional from nonprofessional access is a direct attempt to regulate what is inside a user's head. Alaska's constitution makes no allowances for thought control. Attempting to unequally regulate "similarly situated common user access" is unconstitutional.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that "Industrial Joe Fisherman" and "Private Joe Fisherman" must both be guaranteed access to Alaska's surplus fisheries under Alaska's common use clause.

This guarantee was stated within a hunting case, Owsichek v. State, 763 P. 2d 488 (Alaska 1988), but the same principles apply. See also CWC Fisheries v. Bunker, 755 P.2d 1115, 1121 n, 4 (Alaska 1998).

The only way a statement such as "The sportfish industry does not include Alaska's Joe Fisherman" could be true is if you have come up with your own concept for what the average Alaska fisherman is. As far as Alaska law goes, "Joe Fisherman" is a professional, nonprofessional fisheries access partnership, not some kind of professional, nonprofessional fisheries access contest.

Claiming that the Alaska sportfish industry is not part of Alaska's common use law by attempting to remove it from the "Joe Fisherman" term,

only shows a lack of understanding of Alaska's constitutional law.

Article VIII, Section 3, states: "Wherever occurring in their natural state, fish, wildlife, and waters are reserved to the people for common use."

Article VIII, Section 17, provides: "Laws and regulations governing the use or disposal of natural resources shall apply equally to all persons similarly situated with reference to the subject matter and purpose to be served by the law or regulation."

In CWC Fisheries v. Bunker, the state Supreme Court noted the public trust doctrine guaranteed fishermen access to public resources for "private commercial purposes" as well as for recreation. The same rational applies to professional hunting guides under the common use clause.

The common use clause makes no distinction between use for personal purposes and use for professional purposes."

In Owsichek v. State, the court also noted: "The work of a guide is so closely tied to hunting and taking wildlife that there is no meaningful basis for distinguishing between the rights of a guide and the rights of a hunter under the common use clause."

Don Johnson, Soldotna

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