- Subsistence hunting and fishing in Alaska is a political, social, and cultural issue. Since statehood in 1959 the state of Alaska has managed fish and wildlife resources on all its lands. But because the state has been unable to come into compliance with federal regulations mandating a subsistence rural priority, the federal government (which owns about 60% of all Alaskan land) has taken over the management of subsistence on those lands: hunting and fishing management in 1991, and fishery management on many of the state's navigable waterways in 1999. This rural priority was written into a congressional act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) in 1980. However the Alaska Constitution states that the resources are for the people for their "common use."
Over the last 20 years the various administrations and legislatures have been unable and/or unwilling to make the change to a subsistence rural priority a legality. Dual management of the land and its fish and wildlife resources has been confusing, contentious, and potentially harmful to the resources.Including the navigable waterways in the dual management process adds migratory fish, including salmon, to the confusion of regulations, boundaries, and dual agendas. The rural priority also potentially eliminates subsistence access to important food resources for many Alaskans.More than a thousand people hold subsistence permits to fish for salmon in the upper Copper River
each summer. Only about one third of these are local, rural Alaskans. Since 1980 subsistence fishing in this area has been open to all Alaskan residents. But with the federal takeover of subsistence management in 1999 there is a possibility that the non-local fishers will be excluded from
this fishery sometime in the future.
In 1999 I did a survey of the subsistence permit holders in the upper Copper River subsistence fishery to find out who the people are who use this fishery. I wanted to discover and record why they fish there; how important both the fish and the fishing are to them; how they use the fish they catch;
and what sort of people they and their families are. I also wanted to compare two groups of fishers who use the fishery, the local Copper Basin residents and the non-local (and sometimes non-rural)
folks from places like Anchorage and Fairbanks, and from as far away as Barrow, Alaska. The results from the survey showed me that the two groups aren't really very different in their personal demographics or their love of fishing and Copper River salmon. And they also reaffirmed that the
subsistence issue in Alaska and an equitable solution to the problem is very important to everyone.