On Tuesday, the United States filed a complaint in the District of Alaska against the State of Alaska and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game alleging that Alaska’s 2021 and 2022 emergency orders, which allow fishing on a portion of a river in Alaska the U.S. closed for conservation purposes, are preempted by federal law.
According to the United States, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), enacted by Congress, requires the U.S. Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to grant priority to non-wasteful subsistence uses of fish and wildlife on Alaska’s public lands to rural Alaskans.
Additionally, the complaint states that the Federal Subsistence Board (FSB) has been delegated the authority by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to implement ANILCA’s rural priority mandate through the adoption of regulations consistent with the preservation of Alaska’s fish and wildlife. The complaint further states that FSB’s authority includes the adoption of short-term emergency actions to restrict or close public lands for non-subsistence fishing when necessary to ensure conservation and to re-delegate its authority to agency field officials to set harvest limits.
The United States purports that in 2021 and 2022, the FSB and agency officials exercised their authority under ANILCA to issue emergency special actions to close the 180-mile-long section of the Kuskokwim River to non-subsistence uses while allowing limited subsistence uses by local rural residents. The U.S. alleges that the FSB determined that the emergency actions were necessary to conserve the fish population for continued subsistence uses of the Chinook salmon.
The plaintiff argues that in 2021 and 2022, the State of Alaska, through the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, issued emergency orders that provided opportunities for all Alaskans to fish on the same 180-mile-long section of the Kuskokwim River that had been closed to non-subsistence fishing. The United States argues that Alaska’s emergency orders directly contravene ANILCA by allowing all Alaskans to fish the section of the Kuskokwim River that was closed to non-subsistence uses under FSB’s emergency actions.
Further, the United States argues that Alaska’s emergency orders threaten the conservation of the Chinook and chum salmon populations, usurp the rural priority and reduce opportunities for those who are most dependent on the salmon resources of the Kuskokwim River. The United States also contends that Alaska’s orders are preempted by federal law because they contravene and interfere with federal actions.
Accordingly, the United States filed the present suit seeking a declaratory judgment stating the defendants’ emergency orders are invalid, null and void as they are preempted by federal law as well as a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from continuing any action under Alaska’s emergency orders and from taking similar actions interfering with or in contravention of federal orders under ANILCA.