AD Main Menu

Photos: Bethel fish trials pit salmon science against Native religion

Attorney James Davis talks with defendant Felix Flynn before his trial in Bethel court. Flynn was cited for subsistence fishing for king salmon during a closure last summer. May 20, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Fishermen walk into a Bethel courtroom for their trials. Each of the 25 defendants were cited last summer for subsistence fishing for king salmon during an emergency closure. They are relying on a religious defense, saying that the taking of king salmon is an essential part of their culture and religion. May 20, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Defendant Felix Flynn swears to tell the truth before Judge Bruce Ward in Bethel Court. Flynn is cited with subsistence fishing for king salmon during an emergency closure last summer. May 20, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Alaska State Trooper Brett Gibbens takes the stand in the trial of native fishermen who protested an emergency closure last summer. May 20, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
A defendant wipes away tears after listening to testimony by elder Noah Okoviak. Both were cited after defying an emergency closure last summer. May 20, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Defendants and supporters of the subsistence fishermen cited for defying an emergency closure last summer stand in silent support of elder Noah Okoviak. Mr. Okoviak is 67 and has lived a subsistence lifestyle his entire life. May 20, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
A supporter of the native fishermen cries during elder Noah Okoviak's testimony. May 20, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Peter Berlin takes an oath before testifying in his own defense. May 20, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
John Alexie listens to a trooper's testimony through a translator. May 20, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Defendants confer with their lawyer, James Davis, during a recess. May 20, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
A defendant, in the custody of the court, awaiting his trial for subsistence fishing during an emergency closure. May 20, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Craig Medred

BETHEL -- Not far from the banks of the still solidly frozen Kuskokwim River, a series of trials aimed at establishing the fishing rights of the Yupik Eskimos of far Western Alaska  opened Monday with a victory for the salmon still far at sea.

Before a single witness could be called to the stand, acting Alaska District Court Judge Bruce G. Ward read a seven-page opinion eviscerating the idea Alaska Natives living along the Kusko had any right to violate state laws intended to protect salmon.

He recognized that subsistence fishing might well constitute a religious belief as defined by the Alaska Supreme Court in 1979, but added that "the question remains, is there a compelling reason for the limitations placed by the state on the subsistence taking of Chinook salmon?

"The court finds that there is. This finding is based on the testimony of the research biologists, who testified at length and in detail that the Chinook salmon run was perilously small. The expressed concern was, 'Is this the year we wipe out the run?' "

FULL STORY: Judge finds salmon run survival trumps Native fishermen religious rights