Anxiety high over fishing
Subsistence closures bring on worries over winter food supply
Tension on the Y-K Delta ratcheted up over the past month due to subsistence fishing closures in the Kuskokwim and Yukon river systems.
Subsistence fishing on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers is an open fishery, but with the low chinook (king) runs the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which manages the fishing, chose to close the rivers to chinook fishing in late May in order to allow sufficient numbers of the fish upriver to spawn. King salmon runs average 260,000 in the Kuskokwim, but this year 109,000 to 146,000 of the big fish were expected. On the Yukon River ADF&G estimated for the number of chinooks that passed through the Pilot Station sonar was 81,000 as of July 3, well below the 124,000 average. The chinook run has been in decline for several years. Chum salmon runs have been higher than average this year and fishing for chums remained open for the most part.
Closures continued well into June while subsistence fishers, with some chums on their drying racks, were anxious to bring in chinooks to dry and smoke for their winter food supply. Mid-June, before the rainy season and the flies arrive, is best for drying fish.
Grumbling and protests were heard all over the Delta.
By June 19 AVCP President Myron Naneng was preparing to talk with Alaska Govenor Sean Parnell about declaring a disaster in the area.
Disobedience to the closures, with the support of some tribal leaders, was seen on June 20 with fishers along the Kuskokwim river taking salmon despite the closure. Gear and salmon were confiscated by Alaska Wildlife Troopers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers, and 33 arrests made. About a dozen of those cited were arraigned on June 25 at the Bethel courthouse, but according to Alaska Native News none of them pleaded guilty.
The closures continued, off and on, until June 30 when the ADF&G lifted the closures indefinately on sections of the Kuskokwim. As of July 3 subsistence closures were still in effect on the Yukon River. Commercial fishing for short periods has been allowed in both areas.
Many of those concerned about the subsistence fishing issues met on July 2 for discussion. Attendence included Quyana, U.S. Senator Mark Begich, Alaska Sen. Lyman Hoffman, Alaska Rep. Bob Herron, AVCP, Tanana Chiefs Conference, village tribal representatives, staff from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, staff from Rep. Don Young, NOAA, Calista, YKHC and ONC.
During the discussion Alaska Sen. Lyman Hoffman asked why the people on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers have had to take the brunt of conservation, turning fisherman into criminals in the eyes of the state for trying to feed their families, according to KYUK.
Sen. Begich feels, according to the report, there should be national discussion on the issue and is interested in the formation of a Yukon-Kuskokwim Intertribal Fish Commission.