Seldovia resident also submits request for fish, game harvest in Lake Clark National Park

Ninilchik council files subsistence proposal

Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2000

The Ninilchik Traditional Council already was one step ahead when the Federal Subsistence Board made all Kenai Peninsula residents eligible for the federal rural subsistence preference.

The tribe had long since submitted its proposal to allow all peninsula residents to take all Cook Inlet-area finfish and shellfish -- even salmon, trout, char, Dolly Varden and grayling -- for subsistence.

"What we see as the outcome is subsistence use of fish and shellfish for all residents of the area that we're the governing body for," said Michelle Steik, tribal vice president and press secretary.

The tribe's jurisdiction reaches from the Kasilof River to Homer, she said. It soon will create a community advisory group to advise it on subsistence and other issues, she said.

However, federal officials said the tribe's subsistence proposal faces big hurdles.

"It's overly broad," said Robin West, manager of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. "I don't believe it would receive favor from the board -- it's basically everything. It would certainly open it up for discussion, wouldn't it?"

Meanwhile, the Federal Subsistence Board has assumed fishery jurisdiction only in waters that adjoin federal land. On the Kenai Peninsula, that means waters adjoining the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Chugach National Forest. Kenai Fjords National Park is closed to subsistence use.

However, federal jurisdiction generally does not extend to marine waters or submerged lands, said Federal Subsistence Board member Jim Caplan, deputy regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service. Except for a very few exceptions, federal jurisdiction ends at mean high tide. The state manages clams, sea urchins and other shellfish, he said.

"At this time, the board is not proposing to regulate any marine or estuarine resources," he said.

Only rural residents qualify for the federal subsistence priority, and until recently, Ninilchik, Cooper Landing, Hope, Seldovia, Nanwalek and Port Graham were the only peninsula communities classified as rural. Following a petition from the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, though, the federal board decided May 4 that even the peninsula's major population centers are rural.

Now, all peninsula residents qualify for the federal subsistence priority, but that means little by itself. Before the newly declared rural residents can partake in federal subsistence, the board must determine which communities have traditionally harvested particular stocks.

"We don't know yet," Caplan said. "All that has be be talked about in a public forum."

Then the board can create the appropriate hunts or fisheries.

Tom Boyd, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assistant regional director for subsistence, said the board next will accept subsistence fishing proposals in January 2001.

However, it took fishery proposals from January through March this year. That is when the Ninilchik Traditional Council and Ninilchik residents Steve Vanek and Fred H. Bahr submitted separate proposals to allow all peninsula residents to take all Cook Inlet-area fish and shellfish for subsistence. Since their proposals were similar, federal officials combined them.

In addition, Seldovia resident Hank Kroll proposed allowing subsistence harvest of herring, crab, smelt, whitefish, razor clams, salmon, moose, brown and black bears and seagull eggs in Tuxedni Bay in Lake Clark National Park.

The board published those and other fishery proposals about a week ago, Boyd said. It will take public comment on them until June 16. The Southcentral Alaska Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council will review them this fall, and the Federal Subsistence Board will take them up in December.

Boyd questioned whether the Ninilchik Traditional Council proposal will pass as written.

"When we get a proposal that broad and that vague, it's hard to get your arms around it," he said. "It will have to be a little more focused before there can be a reasonable analysis. It will have to be refined somehow. To some extent that will come from the people who live down there."

Changes also may emerge from the staff analysis or the advisory council review.

Soldotna fishing guide Joe Connors said subsistence fishing could threaten the survival of upper Kenai River trout, and crowds of subsistence fishers could leave few king salmon for sport fishers. Given the potential damage to tourism and the local economy, he said, the proposers must hate Anchorage and the rest of Alaska.

"As soon as you do this, you're telling them not to come here," he said, speaking for himself and not as president of the Kenai River Professional Guides Association. "You're talking about the Russian River. So many tourists come there. Do you want them not to come?

"That grocery store up the road, that gas station up the road, their business is going to go zingo, because people are going to go someplace else where they don't have to play this game."

West said he sees little value in speculation. It is difficult to predict how the federal board will handle fishing, he said, but after 10 years of federal game management, only 15 percent of federal subsistence hunting seasons differ from state seasons.

"There is a good possibility that nothing will ever come of this," he said. "I can't say what's going to happen. We shouldn't play Chicken Little, but we ought to be involved."

Kenai commercial fisher Drew Sparlin agreed.

"There are going to be hundreds of proposals. They're a long way from the position where they can start making decisions," he said. "At his point, there's nothing I can do except take part in the process."

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