Judge rules against state in subsistence argument

Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The state is not sure it will appeal a Superior Court judge's ruling on subsistence hunting and fishing in Southcentral Alaska.

Judge Mark Rindner ruled last week that state regulators were too hasty in dismissing the subsistence claims of area Native villages like Eklutna, Knik and Ninilchik.

The plaintiffs are all traditional Native villages that have been absorbed by suburbia. Neither state nor federal law allows them a subsistence priority. State law puts them in nonsubsistence zones, while the federal law declares them nonrural.

The nonsubsistence areas were challenged in 1992 by the Kenaitze Indian Tribe of Kenai, which was joined by Native governments from Ninilchik, Eklutna, Knik and Chickaloon.

Rindner's ruling could open the way to giving all Alaskans priority subsistence access to salmon in Cook Inlet, where sport and commercial fishing are big business and most subsistence fishing is now banned.

That's because the state's 1992 subsistence law doesn't discriminate between rural and urban residents, so a successful bid for a subsistence priority by Native villagers would open the door to everyone else.

A decision on whether to appeal the Aug. 14 ruling is pending, said assistant attorney general Lance Nelson. However, state officials say they think the Board of Fisheries and Game can rewrite the rules to fix any problems if necessary.

Rindner expressed regret about the jerry-built subsistence system erected in Alaska over the past few decades.

''This court cannot help but observe that the difficulties faced by the boards reflected in the record of this case cries out for a comprehensive legislative solution to the issue of subsistence,'' Rindner wrote in the decision.

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