It’s illegal to sell big game meat in Alaska, but sales of subsistence foods are a constant presence on the social media site and regulations governing the trade of these foods can be inconsistent and confusing. Recently, a Bethel man has been ordered to appear in court for advertising moose meat for sale on Facebook.
If you’re looking to buy or sell something in Bethel or the broader Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, you’re likely to land on Bethel Bargains. It’s a private Facebook page with more than 16,000 members. A brief glance shows posts selling a television, essential oils, a child’s snowsuit, and items in a moving sale. Sprinkled throughout are ads for dry fish, seal oil, and other subsistence foods from around the region.
Last week, a post advertising moose meat popped up with a picture of what appeared to be one-gallon, plastic Ziploc bags, saying, "Moose meat and ribs $25 a bag. Text this phone number."
Alaska Wildlife Trooper Walter Blajeski called the number and spoke with a man named Arnold Lupie. Lupie confirmed that, yes, he had posted the ad, but said that, no, he had not sold any meat. Blajeski issued Lupie a citation and an order to appear in court. The citation is a minor violation, equivalent to a traffic ticket. If Lupie had sold the meat, he could have received a misdemeanor charge.
“Now obviously, each situation is going to be somewhat different," Blajeski explained. "The scale and size and scope of that operation will be taken into account.”
Blajeski says that Lupie immediately removed the post.
KYUK called Lupie. He said that he hadn’t known that Alaska law prohibits the sale of big game meat and that legalities can be confusing with people selling other subsistence foods.
So here’s a brief overview of some of the regulations:
Subsistence game cannot be sold in Alaska, except for rabbit or hare meat. Subsistence fish caught in state waters cannot be sold. However, subsistence fish caught in federal waters by rural residents can be sold to non-commercial entities. In the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, this means that subsistence fish caught within the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, by rural residents, is legal to sell. Migratory bird meat cannot be sold. Marine mammal meat "can be sold in native villages and towns in Alaska or for native consumption," according to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
But bartering for many of these subsistence meats is allowed. The regulations are also different for the non-edible parts of the animals. For instance, some furs, bones, and antlers can be sold.
According to Blajeski, other Facebook posts advertising big game meat are under investigation. But he made one thing clear: “I don’t monitor Facebook or any of the classified ads for the purpose of generating criminal cases,” Blajeski stated.
Trooper Blajeski discovered Lupie’s post only after a community member walked into his Bethel office and showed it to him. The community member claimed that selling meat is not part of the Yup’ik culture. Instead, sharing is the culture.
But what’s also clear is that to have meat to share, a person needs the tools that make subsistence harvests possible, like gas, guns, and ammunition, tools acquired with cash.