Federal board won't govern SE marine waters

Sitka Tribe to appeal decision to leave control in state hands

Posted: Friday, December 14, 2001

ANCHORAGE - The Federal Subsistence Board has decided it will not govern subsistence fishing in marine waters now controlled by the state.

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska had urged the board to assert jurisdiction in waters around the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska but the board refused.

Jude Pate, the tribe's attorney, said he was disappointed the board would not assert authority in marine waters.

Board members said Wednesday that authority in marine waters rests solely with the secretary of the federal Department of the Interior. The secretary only asserts such powers if it can be clearly shown that marine activities are causing some harm to federal freshwater streams, said Tom Boyd, assistant regional director for subsistence management with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Pate said the tribe will appeal the matter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, and if necessary, to court.

The issue is vital to the tribe, he said, because so many subsistence foods for the Tlingits come from the ocean.

"The Tlingit people are people of the tides," Pate said. "Almost everything we eat except for deer and a few plants is on marine waters."

The tribe did get a partial victory when the board decided to exclude all but federally qualified subsistence fishermen from freshwater Redoubt Lake near Sitka, where subsistence users compete with sport anglers for a limited number of sockeye salmon.

The Sitka group wants the federal government to assert powers on many marine waters surrounding the Tongass National Forest, which is federal land. The tribe prefers federal management because federal law recognizes a rural subsistence priority.

Cal Casipit, the Forest Service's lead subsistence fisheries biologist, said clashes between subsistence users and sport fishermen have become increasingly common in Southeast Alaska as tourism has developed.

"There are more and more people competing for limited resources," Casipit said.

At Redoubt Lake, most subsistence users dipnet salmon at a waterfall, said Gary Olson, a Sitka tribal council member. But just outside the lake, in Redoubt Bay, sport fishermen are taking salmon headed into the lake, he said.

In recent years, as the sockeye run has declined to just a few thousand fish, the state has closed subsistence fishing and sportfishing at the same time.

Before the federal board closed the area Wednesday, state managers promised they would close sportfishing at the start of the season while subsistence fishing remains open.

Doug Vincent-Lang, a special assistant in the state's Sport Fish Division, said the federal board is increasingly closing stocks before seasons even begin.

"Management is a better approach," he said. "We ought to have a chance to work with federal managers."

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