FAIRBANKS – The popular Chitina dip-net salmon fishery on the Copper River will remain classified as a personal-use fishery, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled Friday in a defeat for Fairbanks-based fishermen.

The Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling backing a 2003 state Board of Fisheries decision to give the personal-use designation to the Chitina fishery instead of maintaining it as a subsistence fishery.

A subsistence designation would give dip-netters a higher priority than commercial fishermen in times when fishing is restricted because of low returns. The annual commercial catch of Copper River salmon dwarfs the number taken from the river by dip-netters.

The Alaska Fish and Wildlife Conservation Fund and the Chitina Dipnetters Association sued in Fairbanks Superior Court in 2008 after the fish board twice more, in 2005 and 2008, declined to apply the subsistence designation to the fishery. The two groups argued the regulation used by the fish board to give the personal-use designation was unconstitutional.

The Superior Court judge disagreed but instructed the board to better define “subsistence way of life” and not to consider per capita consumption of wild foods in users’ home communities when working on a new definition. The board provided a new definition in April 2010, and the Superior Court judge gave final judgment in October of that year.

The two groups then appealed to the Supreme Court.

The justices, in their Friday ruling, found that the regulation cited by the board in reaching its 2003 decision was “consistent with its authorizing statutes, is reasonable and not arbitrary, does not violate the Alaska Constitution’s equal access provisions, and was constitutionally applied when the Board made its customary and traditional use finding for the Chitina fishery in 2003. ...”

Contact managing editor Rod Boyce at 459-7585. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMeditor.