AVCP and allies win Federal Court Case which protects Subsistence Fishing Rights

by AVCP Staff

The Federal District Court for the District of Alaska has ruled in favor of the United States, the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP), and our allies, rejecting the State of Alaska’s attack on federally protected subsistence rights and has issued a permanent prohibition ordering the State of Alaska from repeating its recent unlawful actions on the Kuskokwim River.

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) recognizes that subsistence fishing is essential to Alaska Natives’ physical, economic, traditional, and cultural existence, and mandates a subsistence fishing preference for rural residents whenever it becomes necessary to restrict fishing to conserve fish populations. Due to the State’s decades-long refusal to comply with ANILCA, the United States regulates fishing on public lands in Alaska, including on the portion of the Kuskokwim River that lies within the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge).

Western Alaska, including the Kuskokwim River, is experiencing a severe, multi-year, multi-species salmon crash that has been devastating for our families and communities. In response to this crisis, the United States has been forced to restrict fishing and implement ANILCA’s rural subsistence priority in the Refuge. Yet in 2021 and 2022, the State repeatedly interfered with the implementation of the rural subsistence priority when the Alaska Department of Fish & Game attempted to open the river to fishing via emergency orders that blatantly contradicted federal orders. And in 2023, to defend its unlawful actions in court, the State expanded its attack on federally protected subsistence rights by directly challenging ANILCA and the Katie John line of cases.

Vivian Korthuis, CEO of AVCP applauded the court’s decision: “The Court has rejected the State’s case and essentially prevented the State from filing similar cases in the future. This case, along with the Katie John cases are a blatant attack on the subsistence rights of Alaska Native. AVCP is committed to defending our traditional waters, our communities, and our ways of life. We are resilient and will continue to fight for our families and communities.”

Korthuis continued: “AVCP is proud to stand with the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and other allies. As our communities face yet another year of shortages, AVCP again calls upon Congress to take immediate action to revisit and strengthen Title VIII of ANILCA in order to permanently protect the rights of our people.”