The Kuskokwim’s king salmon will be running within a matter of weeks. With unprecedented early summer fishing restrictions, people are trying to figure out how to fill their freezers. Representatives of the Yupiit Nation attempted to answer that question during the first day of a tribal forum in Bethel.
Joe Demantle from Tuluksak said the people hurt the most by closures are those with the least resources.
“The ones that don’t have the gear to go out fishing, the ones that don’t have family, immediate family to go out and get it for them. It’s heartbreaking,” said Demantle.
Managers are hoping the run is strong enough to harvest about 1,000 kings for a taste this summer. But otherwise, fishermen will likely see no directed king fishing. How tribes deal with restrictions and assert more local control was the focus of the discussion with more than 20 villages represented.
The group is attempting to develop a strategic plan for this summer and for the long therm. Mike Williams of Akiak is the Yupiit Nation Chief.
“June is right around the corner, we need to do something to avoid what we’ve done before, citations, court time, all the ill feelings that are over our heads right now,” said Williams.
That specter of illegal fishing was never far from the surface. Sammy Jackson from Akiak was cited in 2012 for illegal fishing.
“I’ve been told by my elders also ‘hunger fears no evil.’ I don’t want it to come to that. But we will do what we have to do to survive,” said Jackson.
He and the panel of subsistence fishermen made the case for how the Kuskowkim king salmon could be restored, while also providing for people who depend on the fish. Stephen Maxie Junior is from Napaskiak.
“We need to federalize the river, the state failed. The state has mismanaged the river,” said Maxie.
There were strong calls for in depth tribal consultation and a look at ways that local residents can have direct control over resources. Fritz Charles is originally from Tuntutuliak.
“We as natives, we need to find someone, somehow, someway to take our fish and wildlife and regulate it ourselves,” said Charles.
One idea highlighted for further study was that of cooperative agreements laid out ANILCA Section 809. For example, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission gives villages a management role for subsistence whaling.
There was support for stopping the offshore Pollock fisheries that catch and kill king salmon incidentally. Ideas ranged from a boycott on pollock products like fishsticks to asking for a long moratorium on ground fishing and appealing to Secretary of State John Kerry for action on foreign trawlers.
The Yupiit Nation is a consortium of federally recognized tribes in the Yukon-Kuskowkwim Delta Region.
The meeting continues Thursday.