Fish and Game says Kodiak ad misleads on sovereignty, fishing

Beach seining at the mouth of the Karluk River, (historic photo from Kodiak Maritime Museum)

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game published a notice today setting the record straight after a paid advertisement showed up in the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

The advertisement claimed that federal regulation allows Native inhabitants of the Native village of Karluk and its vicinity to commercially fish without a license in certain waters of the Kodiak area.

The advertisement goes on to say that non-Natives may not fish there if it interferes or restricts fishing by Natives. Further, the ad states there is “no trespassing on Karluk Indian Reservation.”

According to the Department of Fish and Game, the “Karluk Indian Reservation” was revoked in 1971 by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act,  “and there is no longer legal authorization for the cited regulation. Accordingly, the Department of Law advises that 25 CFR 241.5 is not valid or enforceable by federal authorities. Fishing in the Kodiak Area is regulated by the State of Alaska, and all persons commercially fishing within the Kodiak Area are subject to all applicable state statutes, regulations and emergency orders.”

The newspaper ad could very well be a legal set-up. This summer, when the salmon return to the Karluk River, some carefully chosen member of the Karluk tribe may be sent out to fish illegally. That’s when the State Troopers would have to intervene, a confrontation would ensue, and then the tribe would have a case to take to court to re-establish its sovereignty.

Access to the Karluk River has been a sore spot for some time, but the only place in Alaska where a tribe has anything like the authority that the Karluk Native Village is claiming is the Metlakatla Indian Reservation.

The “no trespassing on Karluk Indian Reservation” may also be a set up for confrontation this summer.

Under state law, the public has the right to use and have access to the Karluk River. The water is available for public use for the purposes of fishing, boating, and other activities.

This situation is similar in some ways to the conflict with Ahtna Corporation over access to the Lake Klutina area  — i.e., there are disputes over easements and permitted uses, such as camping, without the Native Corporation’s permission.

The Klutina case is now factoring into the confirmation hearings for Acting Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, who is trying to settle that case out of court and away from public scrutiny.

A few years ago, former Sen. Al Kookesh got caught fishing with a beach seine net and more sockeye salmon than was allowed in Kanalku Bay near Angoon. Prosecutors said he and two others caught 148 sockeye, but had permits for 60. He took the case to court and claimed the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has no authority over subsistence uses.

His wasn’t a protest issue, but a claim that he made after he was caught. He now works on the staff of Gov. Bill Walker.

A protest fishery took place on the Kuskokwim River in 2012, when the State closed the river to subsistence king salmon fishing to protect the dwindling stock.

About 60 elders went out to fish and many were cited. The case went to the Supreme Court, which upheld the State’s right to protect the fishery.

As for the Karluk, Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s web site treats the site delicately, with maps and detailed explanations of access points and private land. These efforts are an attempt to prevent conflict before it happens, a desire that may or may not be reciprocated by the Karluk tribe.