FAIRBANKS - The Alaska Board of Fisheries has set aside two days at its meeting next month in Anchorage to decide whether Chitina dip-netters should be classified as personal-use or subsistence fishermen.
A Superior Court judge recently directed the board to revisit a 2003 decision in which it reclassified dip netting salmon in the Copper River at Chitina as personal-use fishing. Judge Mike MacDonald told the board to better define the term "subsistence way of life" before deciding whether dip netting at Chitina qualifies.
The board has drafted a proposal to address the judge's concern. It defines subsistence as "a way of life that is based on consistent, long-term reliance upon the fish and game resources for the basic necessities of life."
The Chitina Dipnetters Association and Alaska Fish and Wildlife Conservation Fund filed suit against the state a year ago to reclassify Chitina dip netting as a subsistence use. Fishing for subsistence has a higher priority under state law than that of commercial, sport or personal-use fishing.
Mike Kramer, an attorney representing the groups, complained that the proposed definition gives the board an "easy out" to keep Chitina dip-netters classified as personal-use.
"They chose the most restrictive definition of a subsistence way of life as possible, that very few, if any, of the current subsistence users could meet," Kramer said. "They couched it in terms that it almost has to be a life-and-death harvest option for people."
The Chitina dip net fishery was classified as personal use from 1980 until 1999, when the board voted to reclassify it as subsistence. The board reversed its decision four years later.
The state, in an average year, issues 8,000 to 10,000 Chitina personal-use permits, and dip-netters catch somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 fish. The commercial fishing fleet in Cordova, meanwhile, catches an average of 1.3 million salmon a year.
"We're going to continue to press the fight for dip-netters to have a priority when it comes to getting food to feed their families," said Mark Hem, vice president of the Chitina Dipnetters Association.
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