Villagers protest slash in king salmon harvest

Posted: Monday, June 01, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Yukon River fishermen who rely on catching king salmon are again protesting that Bering Sea pollock fishermen are intercepting too many.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council in April voted to cap the number of kings that can be taken by the ocean fleet. Yukon River fishermen say the cap is too high as they begin to deal with immediate closures.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game plans to close commercial fishing on the river and bar subsistence fishing for the first pulse of Canada-bound chinook. When subsistence fishermen are finally allowed to fish, they will have 50 percent less time to do it.

After months of criticism from a nonprofit organization that represents more than 50 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, representatives of Gov. Sarah Palin in the last week went to the area to meet with villagers. They looked to defend how the state is managing salmon.

"All we have heard from this state administration is excuses not to help our villages," wrote Myron Naneng, president of the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents, in a recent e-mail to Palin's adviser for rural affairs, John Moller.

Naneng's group had pushed for tighter restrictions on the pollock fleet and asked for the state to declare an economic disaster in the region. The Department of Fish and Game closed commercial fishing and limited subsistence fishing last year too.

Fish and Game officials say the complicated new cap and incentives are misunderstood but will motivate the pollock fleet to waste fewer salmon.

Moller told Naneng the state could not legally declare a formal disaster on the Lower Yukon last year because of changes the Legislature made to the law in 1999 and 2000. The state has done other things to help people in the region, including extending the moose-hunting season, signing people up for assistance programs and holding a job fair.

With no emergency declaration from the state, the Alaska Federation of Natives and others have asked the federal government to declare a fisheries disaster. U.S. Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young wrote a letter in support of the request May 7.

Moller and Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd on Saturday planned to wrap up a six-village trip with stops in Mountain Village and possibly Emmonak.

About 100 people from four villages on Thursday went to a meeting in Holy Cross, said former Anvik Mayor Robert Walker. It felt like bycatch limits and fishery closures had already been decided, Walker said, and people left in a poor mood.

"The local communities don't have no input into what's being regulated," he said. "It's just handed to everybody on a tray, the rules and regs, what's going to happen."

A normal, healthy king salmon run on the Yukon is about 250,000 fish, said summer area manager Steve Hayes. In 2007, the total run was about 170,000 kings. It dropped to about 158,000 last year, he said.

This year, Fish and Game forecasts about 166,000 kings. The state needs to get 45,000 of those salmon all the way to Canada to meet goals of a U.S.-Canadian salmon treaty.

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