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Request could open subsistence opportunities on Kenai Peninsula

Posted: Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Southcentral Subsistence Regional Advisory Council has been asked to consider a special action request that could establish new subsistence harvest opportunities on the Kenai Peninsula, a change some worry could create further tensions between user groups on the peninsula.

At a meeting in Anchorage on Thursday, the Southcentral RAC will review a special action request made by the Ninilchik Traditional Council to create a fall subsistence fishery on federal public lands in the Kasilof and Tustumena Lake drainage area.

Currently, the peninsula subsistence fishery is limited to federal lands and managed under a set of regulations that mirror those of the state sport fishery. Consequently, the subsistence fishery does not impact other user groups.

If new subsistence harvest opportunities are established, however, the subsistence fishery would no longer mirror the sport fishery and, state resource managers worry, could shake up already complex and contentious relationships between user groups on the peninsula.

“It has a tremendous potential to effect other fisheries,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner McKie Campbell, referring to the potential establishment of new subsistence opportunities.

However, Pete Probasco, acting assistant regional director for the Office of Subsistence Management, said fears over possible changes are premature and likely unwarranted. Probasco said he could not forecast how or even if the establishment of new subsistence harvest opportunities would impact other users.

“We’re not going to know until we see what kind of fishery is developed,” he said.

The Ninilchik Traditional Council has not yet made the details of their request public but will present their completed request at Thursday’s meeting.

No one at the council’s office was available for comment Tuesday.

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act passed by Congress in 1980, requires that rural residents of Alaska be given a priority for subsistence. But in 1989, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that a priority base solely on residency is inconsistent with Alaska’s Constitution. Since then, the federal government has managed subsistence uses on federal public lands.

The Federal Subsistence Board has designated peninsula communities with populations of less than 2,500, such as Hope, Cooper Landing and Ninilchik as rural communities, with the exception of communities that display characteristics of a nonrural nature or are considered socially and economically part of a nonrural area.

The Southcentral RAC also is being asked to review a board proposal to break up the group by creating an additional subsistence resource region for the peninsula and separate advisory council.

According to the board, a separate peninsula RAC would relieve some the burden carried by the Southcentral RAC, which covers an area extending from the Canadian border to portions of Denali Park, and would better address issues unique to the peninsula.

The board is accepting public comments on the proposal to create a peninsula RAC until Sept. 18. Comments can be sent to subsistence@fws.gov, by fax at (907) 786-3898 or by mail to Federal Subsistence Board, Atten: Theo Matuskowitz, Office of Subsistence Management 3601 C Street, Suite 1030, Anchorage, AK 9903.

Thursday’s meeting will be held at 9 a.m. at the Hawthorn Suites Ballroom B, 1110 W. Eighth Ave. in Anchorage.



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