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8/26/14 KNBA News - Yup'ik religious rights vs. fish escapement case lands in appeals court

Today [Tuesday], the Alaska Court of Appeals in Anchorage will hear arguments about whether fishermen who fished during a closure were wrongfully convicted. In the summer of 2012, the number of Chinook, or king salmon, returning to the lower Kuskokwim River to spawn was low. Fishing for kings is integral to Yup'ik spirituality, however, so dozens of people fished in defiance of an emergency closure. Many were arrested, and thirteen decided to appeal their convictions. A lower court agreed king salmon fishing is integral to Yup'ik religion, but said Alaska's need to protect the king salmon outweighed the fishermen's religious rights. Arguments in the case David Phillip vs. the state of Alaska begin at 1:30 p.m. at the Boney Courthouse in Anchorage.

On the Yukon River, enough kings made it across the border into Canada to satisfy escapement goals for that fishery. However, the fish are smaller than historically. Opinions on the cause, or causes, differ. Some point to habitat and environment; others to selective over harvesting of larger older fish.