The state has drawn criticism for allowing the first commercial sale of king salmon on Yukon since 2011. Subsistence users along the international river phoned in to protest the decision.
Every Tuesday during the summer, fishermen, managers, and residents along the Yukon dial into a teleconference to discuss what’s happening along the river.
This week, many people sounded a lot like a woman who identified herself as Andrea.
“We work hard, waiting for this big run to come through our communities," said Andrew, "and all of a sudden they’re down there selling our fish, the fish that we were waiting for for years. I really, really oppose against that.”
Monday, the state opened the river for the first commercial opportunity of the fall season. The opening targeted chum salmon, but kings caught in nets could be legally sold as well. The change marked the first commercial sale of Yukon kings this decade.
Kwik'Pak Fisheries in Emmonak paid almost ten times as much for kings as they paid for chum, but no one got rich off of king salmon, according to Kwik'Pak General Manager Jack Schultheis.
“Roughly there was 67,000 chum caught," said Schultheis. "And I would be surprised if there was anything near 100 kings caught.”
Alaska Fish and Game allowed a commercial king fishery, because most of the kings had already moved upriver. The run was the largest the Yukon had seen since 2005, and escapement goals are likely to be met.
Jeff Estensen manages the Yukon for Fish and Game. He says that after the deluge of protests on Tuesday, Yukon king salmon, coveted for their fatty meat, might remain a scarce item on the market.
“We’re going to have to go back and have more discussion. And what I mean by ‘we’ is the Department, and see if this is something that we will continue to do or not for commercial openings,” said Estensen.
If Fish and Game rescinds its decision, any kings caught during commercial openings would have to be kept for subsistence.