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Natives Cite Religion In Fishing Dispute

November 29, 1987

ANCHORAGE (AP) _ Natives in the village of Quinhagak say catch-and-release fishing by sportsmen violates the natives’ religious beliefs.

″It is against the natives religion to allow their food to be played with and wasted,″ attorneys with Alaska Legal Services in Bethel wrote in a proposal to Alaska Board of Fisheries to ban the practice of catch-and-rele ase on the Kanektok River.

The village and river are about 425 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The natives and their attorneys claim that fish released after being hooked by sport fishermen often die.

Mac Minard, fisheries biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Dillingham, estimated as much as 30 percent of the fish released by anglers die.

Alexie Pleasant, a village leader, said Eskimos have been taught that fish and game resources should not be used for pleasure.

Assistant Attorney General Larri Spengler said she doesn’t think the villagers’ religious rights are being violated.

″Religious freedom issues do not come into play until people are forced to do something against their religion, or are forced to refrain from doing something. That doesn’t appear to be the case in Quinhagak.″

The religion argument was greeted with skepticism and anger by sportsmen.

″What they want is an exclusive subsistence area,″ said Tom Elias, president of the Alaska Sport Fishing Association.

David Law, a member of the Alaska Fly Fishers, called the proposed ban on hook-and-release ridiculous. It would set a dangerous precedent, he said.

Trouble between natives and fly-in fishermen on the Kanektok has been brewing for the past five years, Minard said. Heated words and shoves were exchanged in July after the ADF&G closed the river to commercial fishing, but left it open for sport fishing.

About 60 villagers took to the river in a flotilla of boats, confronting anglers they encountered. The Alaska State Troopers were called in to keep the peace.

Minard said the closure of the commercial season was because not enough salmon were making it back to their spawning grounds.

″But it made little sense to close it to sport fishing,″ Minard said. ″They don’t keep that many.″

According to ADF&G records, anglers caught 1,900 king salmon this summer, releasing all but 375.

Subsistence fishermen caught 3,663 kings, and commercial fishermen netted 26,000. Nearly all the subsistence and commercial fishermen are natives, Minard said.

END ADV Weekend Editions Nov. 28-29

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