Chitina dip-netters fail to win higher priority

Posted: Wednesday, March 24, 2010

FAIRBANKS - Chitina salmon dip-netters will remain classified as personal-use fishermen.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries, at its meeting in Anchorage, voted 6-0 against classifying them as subsistence, which has a higher priority under state law than that of commercial, sport or personal-use fishing.

The decision means the dip-netters who travel to Chitina to scoop salmon out of the Copper River would not have priority over commercial and sport fishermen during a poor salmon run.

The Chitina Dipnetters Association and Alaska Fish and Wildlife Conservation Fund filed a lawsuit against the state a year ago to reclassify Chitina dip-netting as a subsistence use. A Superior Court judge later directed the board to revisit its 2003 decision to reclassify dip-netting as personal-use fishing.

Judge Mike MacDonald wanted the board to better define the term "subsistence way of life" before deciding whether dip-netting at Chitina qualifies.

The board voted Sunday to define the term as "a way of life that is consistent with the long-term reliance upon the fish and game resources for the basic necessities of life."

The board also failed to find a customary and traditional use of Chitina salmon stocks.

More than 50 people testified on the matter and the board received roughly 200 written comments, Jim Marcotte, the board's executive director, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Dip-netters from Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Mat-Su Valley generally testified in support of the subsistence designation while commercial fishermen and Native subsistence dip-netters were opposed.

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.

Mark Hem, vice president of the Chitina Dipnetters Association, said the only recourse left is an appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.

"I don't believe that what they did fulfilled the spirit or the letter of the law," he said. "We'll have to evaluate from here and see what the next direction is we want to take."

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