State Files Cross-Appeal In Fishermen Trial

The State of Alaska has submitted a cross appeal in the Kuskokwim fishermen trials. About two dozen fishermen were convicted in Bethel court in May for taking King salmon last summer when restrictions were in place. Fifteen fishermen are appealing that decision.

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The fishermen are arguing that they have the religious freedom to fish, even during closures, because of their traditional Yup’ik beliefs.

The State is arguing that they don’t. The State already prevailed in the Bethel District Court and they want the Court of Appeals to confirm the convictions.

Assistant Attorney General, Laura Fox, says it wasn’t totally necessary for them to submit a cross-appeal but they wanted to make sure they covered all bases.

“The cross-appeal is just to make sure we preserve our ability to make whatever arguments we might later decide to make,” Fox says.

She says it’s like a place holder for possible arguments but they won’t decide on their exact stance until the briefs are filed later on. The briefing schedule has not been set by the court.

The fishermen’s attorney, James Davis Jr., says the State’s actions means more than that.

“We’re disappointed that the State has filed a cross-appeal to make this litigation even more complicated rather than trying to work with subsistence users to protect subsistence rights,” Davis says.

The State’s cross-appeal mentions the case, Frank vs. the State, and says that the lower court erred in concluding that the fishermen’s conduct was religiously based. Judge Bruce Ward found that subsistence fishing was religious in nature but it wasn’t enough to discount state restrictions.

Davis says Frank vs. the State is a landmark case that protects everyone’s religious freedoms and for the State to include it for possible questioning is disturbing.

“Frank is one of those signature cases unique to Alaska which is so expansive of everybody’s religious freedom,” Davis says.

During the Bethel trials, the Yup’ik fishermen spoke of their belief in the creator, Ellam Yua, who is not pleased if they don’t take what’s offered; in this case, King salmon.