Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
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Chapter 9:

D. Federal Planning Prior to Fisheries Assumption

On October 1, 1999, federal subsistence officials released a series of press releases that announced the obvious: the commencement of federal subsistence management of fisheries on the navigable waterways in, or adjacent to, Alaska's federal conservation units, and the transfer of an additional $10 million to the Interior and Agriculture departments (agreed to by Stevens and Babbitt as part of the October 1998 moratorium) to fund a federal subsistence management program. Officials were quick to state that they were undertaking such an action with considerable reluctance. They announced that regulations under the new regime would largely resemble those that were already in place; that many of the state's most popular commercial and sport fisheries would be largely unaffected by the change; and that to the largest extent possible, they would rely on state personnel and state-generated data in order to effectively fulfill their management mandate. Statements issued by federal as well as state fisheries officials made it plain that a single, state-managed fisheries management system was preferable to the newly-established dual management system. But the appeals court decision in the Katie John case, combined with the legislature's failure to forward a constitutional amendment to Alaska's voters, left federal officials with no other alternative. [89]

Given the terms of the October 1998 moratorium, and the strong subsequent statements made by both Senator Stevens and Secretary Babbitt, it surprised virtually no one that the legislature's failure to act in 1999 was followed by the federal assumption of fisheries management. Given that climate throughout the year, federal officials effectively had a year to prepare for fisheries management. But inasmuch as there had been three previous moratoria, two of which had been worked out at virtually the last minute, the federal government by October 1999 was fairly well versed in the politics of brinkmanship; more important, it (by necessity) had a strong track record in planning for a possible fisheries assumption.

As noted above, Senator Stevens and Secretary Babbitt had cobbled together the first fisheries moratorium in March 1996. Even before that time, officials on the Federal Subsistence Board's staff committee had informally begun to plan for the day—which was unspecified at that time—when the federal government might begin managing the state's subsistence fisheries. But federal officials made few concrete plans during this period. In September 1997, when the second moratorium was worked out on the fiscal year's last day, the extent of the federal government's preparedness was the completion of a draft question-and-answer sheet; beyond that, federal officials were hopeful that a Proposed Rule on subsistence fisheries would be readied "shortly after October 1." It was similarly felt that a Final Rule would be completed "likely during the Spring of 1998" and thus in time for the 1998 fisheries season. [90]

Federal officials, still hoping for a legislative resolution, made no specific preparations for a fisheries assumption during the first half of 1998 except for the extensive public process (noted above) related to the Proposed Rule that had been issued in December 1997. Governor Knowles focused his efforts that year on a special session, and both he and federal officials were hopeful that that session would break the subsistence impasse. But the special session adjourned on July 21 without forwarding a proposed constitutional amendment to Alaska's voters. In response to the legislature's inaction, Secretary Babbitt issued a press release announcing that he and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman fully intended to assume management over the state's federally-managed subsistence fisheries when the current moratorium expired on December 1. And to prepare for that eventuality, the two secretaries had written to both the Office of Management and Budget and to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees requesting $9.5 million to implement the court order in the Katie John case. [91] Regarding specific planning actions, the Secretary noted that:

In proceeding with implementation, final regulations can not be published before December 1, 1998. A timeline is currently under development that outlines the steps leading to the publication of these regulations. ... The new federal subsistence fishing regulations are planned to go into effect with the spring 1999 seasons. Detailed operational planning, and discussions on coordination with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are now being initiated, in preparation for the implementation. [92]

The National Park Service, along with the other agencies represented on the Federal Subsistence Board, was already well underway in its planning efforts by this time; they had been goaded into action in April 1998 by the Secretaries' budget request. At that time, federal authorities had concluded that the NPS would receive $1.85 million out of the projected $9.5 million fiscal year 1999 budget allotted to subsistence fisheries management, [93] and agencies officials had already compiled a fairly specific budget outlining how its allotment would be spent. The agency, in its attempt to formulate a decentralized fisheries management system, proposed four park clusters; within each cluster, it proposed a budget including labor needs and ancillary expenses. [94]

Because federal officials had commenced a stepped-up effort in July 1998, they were better prepared than ever for a possible fisheries assumption when Senator Stevens and Secretary Babbitt worked out a third fisheries moratorium that October. Their agreement, moreover, paved the way for the issuance of final subsistence fisheries regulations; as noted above, they were issued in early January 1999, almost nine months before the moratorium expired. Given the tone of both Stevens's and Babbitt's verbiage in the months that followed their October 1998 pact, federal officials had a greater-than-ever certainty that a fisheries assumption would indeed take place if the state legislature failed to act. As a practical matter, therefore, officials had almost a year to map out the details relating to a federal subsistence fisheries program.

Federal officials, in fact, made the most of the months that remained before October 1. Their first task was writing an overview of how the federal subsistence fisheries program would be organized and implemented. On March 26, the Federal Subsistence Board's staff committee sketched out a brief Fisheries Implementation Work Plan. That plan, released in tabular form, delineated fourteen specific issues; [95] within each issue, it outlined a series of steps within each issue that had to be addressed by specific deadline dates. By April 21, the work plan had evolved into the Federal Subsistence Fisheries Implementation Plan, which called for the creation of a series of subcommittees or working groups related to each of fourteen issues and the publication of a series of issue papers. [96]

The Staff Committee, as promised, set to work on completing issue papers related to all fourteen issues, and by June 14 brief "issue papers"—in reality nothing more than a list of goals, tasks and assignments—had been completed on all fourteen topics. [97] Two of these topics, however, demanded a more detailed treatment: 1) organizational structure, staffing, and budget, and 2) information needs (data management). In order to work on these topics, the Federal Subsistence Board began by establishing a six-person subcommittee on information needs and information, which was called the Organizational Blueprint Sub-Committee. Patty Rost, Gates of the Arctic's Resource Management Specialist, was its NPS representative. The group immediately went to work. By July 9, each of the federal government's four major land management agencies had submitted reports detailing information issues and concerns; the subcommittee, in turn, used that information to compile a document called Federal Subsistence Fisheries Management: Operational Strategy for Information Management, which was presented to the Federal Subsistence Board on August 2. [98]

Federal Fisheries
State Fisheries

Arctic/Kotzebue/Norton Sound

Kotzebue-Northern, Norton Sound-Port Clarence

Yukon River


Kuskokwim River


Bristol Bay/Alaska Peninsula/Kodiak

Aleutian Islands, Alaska Peninsula, Chignik, Bristol Bay, Kodiak

Cook Inlet/Gulf of Alaska

Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound

Southeast Alaska

Yakutat, Southeastern Alaska

The report introduced several concepts that have been followed by federal fisheries managers ever since. One major decision that the subcommittee made was to organize Alaska, for the purpose of subsistence fisheries information gathering, into six regions. [99] It was widely recognized that the ten-region structure that the Federal Subsistence Board had established for wildlife management in April 1992 could not logically be applied to the state's fisheries; and the subcommittee likewise agreed that federal fisheries managers—for the purposes of information gathering—did not need to use the same thirteen-region system that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game had long used. The six recommended regions, it should be noted, would be for information gathering only. Inasmuch as the January 1999 Final Rule delineated the subsistence fisheries according to state fisheries areas, the federal government decided to continue to use thirteen state-defined fisheries areas for regulatory purposes. For federal advisory purposes, however, the existing ten-region system held sway. The August 1999 report made no attempt to recommend a separate regional advisory structure for fisheries management. Fisheries management proposals, therefore, would continue to be discussed and evaluated by the same ten regional advisory councils that had been in existence since the fall of 1993.

Beyond those geographical parameters, the report detailed the process by which information input and management decisions would interplay before, during, and after each fisheries season. In addition, it identified three classes of information needs—subsistence harvest studies, stock status and trends studies, and traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) studies [100]and it outlined a process by which federal officials would generate and evaluate fisheries research projects within these three classifications. The report, which received a broad approval from federal board members, served as the basis for sequential efforts.

Table 9-1. Proposed Staff and Budget for Federal Subsistence Fishers Management, Summer 1999

Program Administration: Proposed New Staff Proposed Budget

AgencyFY 2000FY 2001 FY 2000FY 2001

Office of Subsistence Management714$2,000,000$2,345,000
National Park Service9.5161,000,0001,805,000
U.S. Forest Service7.515967,0001,580,000
Fish and Wildlife Service36969,0001,221,000
Bureau of Indian Affairs12130,000245,000
Bureau of Land Management12140,000200,000
DOI Office of the Solicitor11115,000115,000


Resource Monitoring: Proposed New Staff Proposed Budget

AgencyFY 2000FY 2001FY 2005FY 2000FY 2001FY 2005

National Park Service10.612.016.8$1,089,000$$1,858,000$$2,601,000
U.S. Forest Service22.021.029.4$2,033,000$3,920,000$5,706,000
Fish and Wildlife Service22.428.039.2$2,283,000$4,958,000$6,773,000
Bureau of Indian Affairs------$130,000$255,000$357,000
Bureau of Land Management1.62.02.8$144,000$400,000$560,000


By the time the federal board had acted on the so-called "Blueprint Report," less than two months remained before the October 1 deadline. As a result, there was little time remaining to complete the crucial report on organizational structure, staffing, and budget. A four-person interagency team from the staff committee immediately set to work immediately, and just two weeks later it emerged with an initial draft. A second draft of the report was presented on August 30, and a third draft was completed on September 9. The publication of each report was followed by a flurry of activity; agencies were usually given just three or four days to critique each document. [101] On September 14, the Federal Subsistence Board met to evaluate the report. It had to make a major decision that day; should it adopt individual agency resource monitoring (Alternative 1), or should it adopt unified resource monitoring (Alternative 2)? The report was evenhanded in its comparison of the two alternatives, but in a key statement, it noted that "On balance, the subcommittee is convinced that the greater effectiveness and efficiency of the unified resource monitoring program are compelling." (This was consistent with recommendations made in the Organizational Blueprint report completed in early August.) Given that rationale, the Board at its September 14 meeting "agreed in principle to the proposed organizational structure and program strategy with a commitment of funding and staffing to support it." [102]

The proposed program was divided into two distinct segments: program administration and resource monitoring. In the program administration arena, the various agencies envisioned that during the first year following federal fisheries assumption (FY 2000), 30 new, full-time employees and a $5.3 million budget would be needed; but during full funding years (FY 2001 and thereafter), 56 employees and a $7.5 million budget would be necessary. The remainder of the $11 million that was being allotted to subsistence fisheries management—about $5.7 million—would be directed toward resource monitoring efforts; this amount would increase to $11.4 million in FY 2001 and $16.0 million in FY 2005. Staff and budgetary requirements as detailed by the various agencies is noted in Table 9-1 above.

Most federal agencies, not knowing for sure whether they would be managing the subsistence fisheries, held off on hiring new staff until after October 1. A few short-term hires, however, were made in anticipation of the upcoming assumption. In late August, the National Park Service hired Dave Nelson, a fisheries biologist who had logged 28 years with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. At the same time, Mary McBurney began working for the NPS; she had previously served with the Western Alaska Fisheries Development Association (in Nome) and with Cordova District Fisherman's United. [103]

With the completion of the Organizational Structure and Program Strategy report on September 15, two weeks before the October 1 deadline, federal subsistence officials were in an excellent position to begin managing the subsistence fisheries. Having a completed report also gave a clear signal to Alaska's legislators, who were getting ready to convene a special session on the subsistence issue, just what sort of management system could be expected if state lawmakers failed to forward a subsistence-related constitutional amendment to Alaska's voters prior to the deadline. Having completed the most critical aspects of their planning efforts, federal managers made further preparations during the last two weeks of September. All the while, they were well aware that action by the Alaska legislature might well make virtually all of their planning efforts irrelevant. But the legislature, as noted above, failed to pass the required constitutional amendment, and beginning on October 1, federal agencies began managing the subsistence fisheries on almost 60 percent of Alaska's lands.

Map 9-1. Federally-Managed Fisheries Subsistence Regions, 1999-Present.
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

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Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003