Calista attorney Chamberlain named to Board of Fisheries; Carlson-van Dort reappointed

A Chamberlain focus is urging State and federal policy makers to "act quickly to stop the physical and cultural starvation of our people."

by | April 2, 2024

Former longtime Las Vegas attorney refers to self as “recovering trial lawyer”

Curt Chamberlain fishing with his children on the Chitina River. Credit: Calista Corporation

By Peggy Parker/SeafoodNews.com
April 2, 2024

Alaska’s Governor Dunleavy named Curtis Chamberlain, Assistant General Counsel for the Western Alaska Calista Corporation, to the state’s Board of Fisheries yesterday and reappointed Märit Carlson-Van Dort to the seven-member panel. Carlson-Van Dort has served one three-year term.

Chamberlain has practiced law for the past 15 years. Prior to his position at Calista Corporation, Chamberlain served on the Kuskokwim Corporation Board of Directors. He grew up in Aniak and Bethel, both on the Kuskokwim River.

Chamberlain was recently appointed to a four-year seat on the U.S. advisory panel for the international North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission. 

Last summer Calista’s President and CEO Andrew Guy wrote about the western Alaska corporation’s position on the loss of salmon to the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

“Our approach is to look at multiple factors for the salmon collapse and address them systematically, and at every level possible. Some issues, like climate change and warming oceans and rivers, are beyond our control,” Guy said.

“But we can fix structural defects in state and federal law and regulations, advocate to our state and federal fishery boards, use the court system if necessary, and secure more subsistence voices at the table where decisions are made for our fisheries,” he said last year.

“After decades of failed and broken promises, we urge Alaska’s state and federal policymakers to recognize and protect Alaska Native rights to subsistence uses of fish and game. We ask that they act quickly to stop the physical and cultural starvation of our people.”

curt chamberlain, attorney for yup’ik owned calista corporation Alaska federation of natives, 2023

In October, Chamberlain addressed the Alaska Federation of Natives on the salmon crisis in western Alaska.

“Prior to being an attorney, my family lived off the land in Aniak in the middle Kuskokwim. The salmon crash in 1994 made my way of life unsustainable and I had to go to college to become a lawyer. If given the choice between being an attorney and living my Traditional lifestyle, I would trade in this suit to be on that river any day.

“Subsistence is the lifeblood for Alaska Native people. It is much more than a food source. It’s the glue that holds our economy, our food chain, and culture together. Today the Y-K region not only has one of the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the nation, but also the highest costs of living.

Curt Chamberlain argues at the October 2023 Alaska Federation of Natives convention for changes to federal law to protect Native subsistence harvests. Chamberlain was one of the speakers participating in a floor session on the subject. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

“Fishing policies have long favored coastal commercial fisheries. Bycatch and overfishing in intercept fisheries capture salmon bound for the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers. Billions of hatchery salmon flood the Gulf of Alaska with fish that compete against and further decimate wild stocks for our region. As a result, Alaska has seen the largest decline of salmon in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers since statehood, with no effective measures in effect to protect the rural subsistence priority.”

Marit Carlson-VanDort

Carlson-Van Dort, a Sugpiaq from Chignik Bay, has commercial fished for nearly 15 years. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Conservation Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and did graduate work in Fisheries Science and Secondary Education. Carlson-Van Dort has spent the past several years working in both the public and private sectors in public and government affairs with an emphasis on state and federal regulation, environmental policy, permitting, resource development, and community outreach and engagement.

She is currently the President & CEO of Far West, Inc. an Alaska Native village corporation formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).

The other five members of the Board of Fish are Gerad Godfrey of Eagle River, Mike Wood of Talkeetna, John Wood of Willow (who Chamberlain would be replacing if approved by the Legislature); Tom Carpenter of Cordova, Stan Zuray of Tanana and Greg Svendsen of Anchorage.

The Board of Fisheries adopts regulations that set open and closed seasons and areas for taking fish; sets quotas, bag limits, harvest levels and limitations for taking fish; and establishes the methods and means for fish harvests (for subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries) . Members are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Alaska Legislature.

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Part of a 2022 statement by Curt Chamberlain to the US Dept. of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs, Federal Subsistence Policy Tribal Consultation

“And with the YK region having one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, many of our tribal members have been forced to move out of region. This in turn leads to an erosion of our cultural traditions and loss of our values and language. As much as it pains me to admit it, I’m a prime example of this. I left the region after high school as my way of life eroded and the fishery had collapsed. I had no reason to return. The economy had collapsed. It was again, giving no reason to return. And now I’m in my middle ages and I’m fighting tooth and nail to reintroduce my heritage and my way of life to my children which is one of the reasons why I ended up folding up a law firm that I owned for 10 years and took a job with Calista Alaska. This is my effort to bring culture back to my children and preserve my way of life.”

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.

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