Bethel Will Remain A Subsistence Use Area

The Joint Board of Fisheries and Board of Game opposed establishing a non-subsistence use area for Bethel in a meeting in Anchorage last week.

The proposal was submitted by Fairbanks trapper Allen Barrette which stated that Bethel would appear to qualify as a non-subsistence area.

The joint board considered a 50 square mile area which makes up the incorporated City of Bethel. Designating it as non-subsistence would repeal the subsistence priority. It would prevent subsistence hunting and fishing on state land there.

The Department was neutral on the issue but asked the Board to consider public comments. Several local groups spoke in opposition to the proposal.

Dr. Jim Fall with the State’s Division of Subsistence walked the board through new community data information gathered from a recent subsistence harvest survey.

“Costs in Bethel are substantially higher than in road connected communities,” Fall said. “Cost of food are much higher than in those communities and the cost of food relative to Anchorage has increased over time in Bethel.”

The Board relied heavily on the survey’s numbers to reach its decision. The subsistence survey showed that 71 percent of residents are Alaska Native. On average, a Bethel family uses 15 different kinds of subsistence resources such as salmon, berries, and land mammals.

The survey estimated the average pounds of subsistence food each person in Bethel would use annually.

“Sixty-nine pounds of salmon, 44 pounds of land mammals, 33 pounds of other fish and other categories are slightly lower. That adds up to about 168 pounds per person of wild foods,” Fall said.

Orville Huntington of Huslia is on the Board of Fish.

“If anything the data suggests that it should be a subsistence use area,” Huntington said.

It didn’t take long for other members to speak out as well.

Board of Fish member Sue Jeffrey of Kodiak said Bethel residents rely on subsistence foods not only for cultural reasons but because store bought food is so costly. She was in Bethel recently and compared some prices.

“I thought the cost of Kodiak food was expensive,” Jeffrey said. “I think a bag of Kettle chips in Kodiak is more than $5. It’s almost $8 for a small bag [in Bethel] so it’s expensive.”

Here’s Bob Mumford of Anchorage with the Board of Game.

“At this point I think it’s easy enough for me that I cannot see any good reason why we should change anything in Bethel in this regard,” Mumford said.

The rest of the Board unanimously agreed.

After the proposal was voted down, Myron Naneng who is President of the Association of Village Council Presidents said it was a great day for customary and traditional users.

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