State appeals subsistence board ruling

Some worry Ninilchik's priority will inflame reallocation issues

Posted: Friday, January 19, 2007

KENAI - The state is appealing a Federal Subsistence Board decision granting the community of Ninilchik a subsistence priority in the Kenai River drainage waters on federal land.

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The Nov. 17 decision came amid the opposition of state fishery managers and sport fishermen. The state made its appeal on Tuesday, squeezing in just under the two-month deadline.

Opponents worry Ninilchik's subsistence priority will inflame fierce reallocation issues and place an unsustainable burden on fish populations.

Proponents say advancing subsistence uses on federal lands on the Kenai Peninsula are overdue and can be implemented without sparking an allocation dispute or hurting fish populations.

Under the subsistence program, subsistence is limited to rural residents. If the board finds that a community has customarily and traditionally used an area for subsistence needs, the panel can grant a subsistence priority in that area.

Ninilchik is the latest of three communities determined to have subsistence priority on the waters of the upper Kenai River drainage on federal lands. Hope and Cooper Landing also have been granted a subsistence priority. But with almost 800 residents, Ninilchik is by far the largest of the three.

The state in May asked the board to reconsider its decision to give subsistence priorities to Cooper Landing and Hope. But the board declined the state's request to reconsider because no new information to support a change in the original decision was provided.

In the Ninilchik case, the state may take its concerns one step further, depending on the board's response, said Sarah Gilbertson, subsistence and federal issues coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"Once we see what they do with that request for reconsideration, probably then folks will start thinking about whether you pursue this in a different forum, being a legal forum in the courts," she said.

According to the state, Fish and Game survey data does not demonstrate "long-term consistent, recurring pattern of subsistence use" by Ninilchik in the upper Kenai River. The state contends Ninilchik was erroneously granted subsistence rights there and that the board misinterpreted survey information to reach its conclusion.

According to survey data, 28 percent of Ninilchik residents have used the Kenai River at some point and 7 percent fish the upper Kenai River annually.

Officials with the federal office of Subsistence Management said no decision has been made as to how the board will respond to the state's request for reconsideration.

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