ANCHORAGE - An Alaska state senator will challenge a fishing citation he received and seek a court opinion on whether a state wildlife officer has jurisdiction over subsistence fishermen on federal land.
Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, said Monday the Alaska Legislature has consistently refused to take steps to align the state constitution with federal law governing subsistence on federal land. He believes the state wildlife officer who landed his float plane on Admiralty Island and cited him and other fishermen for too many subsistence fish had no business being there.
"We need to challenge the state of Alaska coming in the back door trying to manage subsistence on federal lands," Kookesh said.
Kookesh, 61, was elected to the state House in 1996 and the state Senate in 2004. He has a distinguished resume outside state government.
He's chairman of the board of Sealaska Corp., the Alaska Native regional corporation for Southeast Alaska. He's also the longtime co-chairman of the Alaska Federation of Natives, the largest statewide Native organization in Alaska.
Federal law passed in 1980 requires that rural residents receive subsistence hunting and fishing priority to protect rights for Alaska Natives who surrendered aboriginal land claims. The state constitution says fish, wildlife and water are to be reserved for the "common use" of all Alaskans. Courts have interpreted that to outlaw a rural preference.
The result is dual management of subsistence, Kookesh said.
An Alaska State Trooper wildlife officer on July 12 contacted Kookesh, Scott Hunter, Stanley Johnson and Rocky Estrada Sr. in Kanalku Bay near Angoon.
Megan Peters, a troopers spokeswoman, told the Juneau Empire the party was in possession of 148 sockeye salmon taken with a beach seine net. Each man had a valid subsistence permit allowing them to collectively take a total of 75 sockeye, she said.
"There were an additional 73 salmon in their possession," Peters said. "Those were taken to the senior center in Angoon because we took them away from them because they were not allowed to have them."
Kookesh has a different take. Nine people were at the fishing site, he said. Only four were cited. A 10th person with a permit for an additional 100 fish was delayed.
The net belonged to him, Kookesh said, but it takes seven or eight people to work it. Thirty-eight fish went to the Angoon senior center, he said, and the rest went to 12 different families.
"Every time it goes out it feeds 10 to 15 families," Kookesh said of his net.
The Legislature, through three governors and five special sessions, considered steps to allow Alaskans to align the state constitution with federal law. The state could be managing fish and game on 100 percent of Alaska if it did so, he said.
"Alaska through its legislative process refused to do so," he said.
He could afford to pay the $500 fine, he said, but that's not the question.
"This is a chance for us to take something to court that has a favorable light as it relates to rural residents," he said.
He is trying to rally support for a court fight.
"I want NARF (Native American Rights Fund) involved with this. I want to make sure the Native community is involved with this. I want to make sure AFN is involved," he said.
He has contacted Larry EchoHawk, head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and plans to speak to Kim Elton, the director of Alaska affairs for the Interior Department.
"We'll see who wants to get on the bandwagon," he said.
At an Aug. 12 hearing in Angoon, Kookesh and the three others pleaded not guilty to one count of exceeding the subsistence salmon limit. A trial is set for Oct. 5.