With summer just around the corner, fisherman from the Kuskokwim coastal village of Quinhagak say they are facing a dilemma. They are trying to decide between fishing for cash, or to stand down for the sake of future generations.
Ever since the State of Alaska came into existence, the salmon that make the Kuskokwim their home have been fished for cash. Fisherman up and down the Kuskokwim enjoyed a vibrant commercial salmon fishery until stocks began to dwindle. Over the years, the commercial fishery in the river closed down for the most part, but the two coastal districts at Quinhagak and Goodnews Bay have continued to fish for cash. The fisheries continue to support up to 200 Kuskokwim drift permit holders.
Quinhagak resident Willard Church says that fishermen in his district might keep their commercial nets out of the water during the King run. They don’t want to see their returns become poor like the ones on the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers have.
“the people of Quinhagak are seriously considering not allowing our commercial King salmon fishery to open as it usually had done, we’re looking at the possibility of holding off until the sockeye season, I’d like everyone who fishes in our region to respect the wishes of the Quinhagak people” says Church.
Native Village of Kwinhagak President, Joshua Cleveland explained their dilemma, “we are worried, since we are the only commercial salmon fishery on the Kuskokwim, we have never had shortages, we’ve had many fish to harvest, but we are worried now, which are we going to choose, our minds are heavy, says Cleveland,
“we put up King Salmon first, thinking of the long winter ahead, there were less than two-thousand Chinook that escaped last summer, there are normally five to ten thousand, the kings are also getting smaller and smaller, we are trying to decide between subsistence or fishing for much needed cash” says Cleveland.
Travis Ellison is the Area Management biologist for the State. He says the King salmon fisheries on the Kuskokwim coast typically open by June 15.
“This year we’re going to be even more conservative with the Quinhagak King fishery, we’re going to wait for sockeyes, so the first opener will be sometime in the first week of July” said Ellison.
Arthur Lake from the coastal village Kwigillingok says that each Yup’ik is connected to the land and sea, so everyone knows what’s at stake.
“the sea, the land, being a part of them, respecting them, we personally know that, please do not hurt that, we with the sea and land are one, we are not separate, we are attached, ever since our ancestor’s time, well into the future with our children” said Lake.
The Kuskokwim area residents were speaking at a recent meeting of the Coastal Villages Region Fund, the regional Community Development Quota group which is the sole commercial fish buyer .