Alaska appeals court hears subsistence case

BETHEL, Alaska — The Alaska Court of Appeals is considering a case involving western Alaska subsistence fishermen who are appealing their convictions of illegal king salmon fishing on the Kuskokwim River during a weak run in 2012.

Attorneys for both sides argued before the appellate court in Anchorage Tuesday, KYUK reported. The 13 Yup’k Eskimo fishermen, who were convicted last year, contend the state failed to weigh their spiritual right to fish for king salmon before imposing tight restrictions.

The fishermen’s Anchorage attorney, James J. Davis, said the state had a duty to accommodate the fishermen’s religious beliefs. That defense is based on a free-exercise clause of the Alaska Constitution.

“We submit that the state had a duty but failed to comply with the duty,” Davis said.

Assistant Attorney General Laura Fox, representing the state, said that issuing citations for fishing during an emergency closure was necessary to protect king salmon.

“There was never any harvestable surplus of kings in 2012 and at the end of the day the state missed the escapement objective by 50,000 fish,” Fox said.

A three-judge panel is considering arguments in the case and will issue a decision, likely later this year or early next year.

Friend of the court briefs have been filed in the case by groups including the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Alaska Federation of Natives.

During their Bethel trials last year, about two dozen fishermen argued they have a spiritual right to fish for King salmon when restrictions are in place.

Judge Bruce Ward sided with the state. He said he looked at the case closely, reviewing a 1979 state Supreme Court case that shows the free-exercise clause may work when religion is involved, conduct is religiously based and the person is sincere. Ward said the fishermen met the first two requirements and addressed the sincerity question in individual trials.

But the judge said the state’s need to restrict kings supersedes the fishermen’s religious rights.

The fishermen who are appealing the ruling say that during low king salmon numbers, for example the state could allow a subsistence priority to Yup’ik fishermen or press action against commercial pollock trawlers that catch thousands of kings each year as bycatch off Alaska’s coast.

More in Local News

Young woman missing from Mukilteo found safe

She called her parents and told them she was at a museum in Seattle.

Mom and brother turn in suspect in Stanwood robberies

The man is suspected of robbing the same gas station twice, and apologizing to the clerk afterward.

Derrick “Wiz” Crawford, 22, is a suspect in the homicide of his roommate. (Edmonds Police Department)
Roommate suspected in Edmonds killing found hiding in closet

Police had been searching for him for 10 days before locating him at a house in Everett.

Video shows man suspected of attacking a woman in Edmonds

The man allegedly threw her on the ground, then ran away after the she began kicking and screaming.

Navy to put filter in Coupeville’s contaminated water system

Chemicals from firefighting foam was found in the town’s drinking water.

Officials to test sanity of suspect in Everett crime spree

He allegedly tried to rob and clobber a transit worker, then fled and struggled with police.

Katharine Graham, then CEO and chairwoman of the board of The Washington Post Co., looks over a copy of The Daily Herald with Larry Hanson, then The Herald’s publisher, during her visit to Everett on Sept. 20, 1984. The Washington Post Co. owned The Herald from 1978 until 2013. (Herald archives)
Everett’s brush with Katharine Graham, leader of ‘The Post’

Retired Herald publisher Larry Hanson recalls The Washington Post publisher’s visits.

Former Monroe cop loses appeal on sex crimes conviction

Once a highly respected officer, he was found guilty of secretly videotaping his kids’ babysitter.

Families seek to change wrongful death law

A bill would allow or parents or siblings who wish to pursue a suit for an unmarried, childless adult.

Most Read