Due to a reduced run of king salmon, Alaska closed the lower Kuskokwim River’s subsistence fisheries in summer 2012. Fishing for salmon is a key part of the Yup’ik religion and 21 people allegedly continued to fish. Because Alaska did not attempt to accommodate these fishers’ religious beliefs, the ACLU of Alaska wrote an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief about Alaska’s need to respect the fishers’ religion. 
The trial court agreed that fishing is integral to the Yup’ik religion but nonetheless convicted the fishers. The court did not ask if reduced fishing, but not total prohibition, would have protected both the fishers’ religion and the salmon; it viewed it as binary—unfettered fishing versus none at all—and decided that Alaska’s need to protect the salmon overrode the fishers’ religious rights. 
Status: The fishermen appealed to the Alaska Court of Appeals. 


District Court for the State of Alaska - Fourth Judicial District at Bethel


Bruce G. Ward


On appeal