Subsistence in Alaska
Overview: Definition, Responsibilities and Management

What is Subsistence use?

The harvest and processing of wild resources for food, raw materials, and other traditional uses have been a central part of the customs and traditions of many cultural groups in Alaska, including Aleut, Athabascan, Alutiiq, Euro-American, Haida, Inupiat, Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Yupik for centuries. The Alaska legislature passed the state’s first subsistence statute in 1978 and established subsistence as the priority use of Alaska’s fish and wildlife. The law defined subsistence as “customary and traditional uses” of fish and wildlife and highlighted the unique importance of wild resources, and the continuing role of subsistence activities in sustaining the long-established ways of life in Alaska.

Responsibilities of the Boards of Fisheries and Board of Game

Under Alaska state law, the Board of Fisheries (BOF) and the Board of Game (BOG) have the authority to adopt regulations governing the use of fish and game resources in Alaska (See AS 16.05.251 for BOF and AS 16.05.255 for BOG authority). Alaska state law also directs the Board of Fisheries and Board of Game to identify fish stocks and game populations that are customarily and traditionally used for subsistence in Alaska. Once the Board of Game or the Board of Fisheries has made a customary and traditional use determination for a fish stock or game population, they must set the amount reasonably necessary for subsistence uses keeping in mind the sustained yield principle. The boards must then adopt subsistence regulations that provide a reasonable opportunity for subsistence uses first before providing for other uses of any harvestable surplus of a fish stock or game population [AS 16.05.258 (b)]. This is referred to as the “subsistence priority.”

Dual Subsistence Management

The passing of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) by Congress in 1980 created the federal counter part of Alaska’s subsistence law. Title VIII of ANILCA applies to federal public lands in Alaska. As a result, some subsistence hunting and fishing in Alaska are presently regulated by the federal government. Both Alaska state law (AS 16.05.940[32]) and federal law (Title VIII of ANILCA, section 803) define subsistence uses as the “customary and traditional” uses of wild resources for various uses including food, shelter, fuel, clothing, tools, transportation, handicrafts, sharing, barter, and customary trade. However, Federal and state laws currently differ in who qualifies for participation in subsistence fisheries and hunts. Under federal law, rural Alaska residents qualify for subsistence harvesting. Since 1989, all Alaska residents have qualified under state law.