ANCHORAGE -- People up and down the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers are getting ready to go fishing for king salmon, but the outlook is poor for the region.
Last month the Federal Subsistence Board closed sport and commercial fishing for kings and chums within federal waters. The state has told commercial fishermen not to expect to fish this summer on the Yukon. And there's only the possibility of a commercial coho opening on the Kuskokwim in August. Even the subsistence catch has been cut back to just three or four days a week.
Some families say they will temporarily give up the nomadic tradition of moving to fish camps for the summer and stay in their villages. They may fish nearby when they can, or not fish for kings or chums at all.
Others are preparing to fish furiously when allowed. Some villagers say they will target other salmon species, such as cohos. If the fishing falls short, some families will try to make up the difference by later hunting more birds or moose, which could cause more competition for those resources.
"If we don't get enough fish, people are going to miss it," Ragine Pilot Attla, administrator for the Louden Tribe in Galena, told the Anchorage Daily News.
Attla said she still plans to go to her fish camp about 15 miles from the village because it is tradition and she needs to feed her family. If she can't catch enough salmon, her family may try to get another moose, or more ducks or geese.
"You can't afford to feed your kids out of the store," she said.
Others also worry about the loss of a cultural tradition. "Fish camps are a training ground and for getting kids out," said Gilbert Huntington, a fisherman in Galena.
Monty Millard, a fisheries coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said he thinks most people accept the restrictions as necessary. "People have seen how bad it is," he said.
Subsistence opportunities and traditions vary from village to village across this huge region, but families commonly put several sources of income together to make ends meet.
In Western Alaska, commercial fishing and subsistence are often intertwined, with the sale of salmon or herring, for example, paying for moose hunts or runs upriver to a subsistence fish camp.
It's not much, but it helps. On the Kuskokwim, for example, commercial fishermen made $4,500 on average from 1990 to 1999, according to state records. Last year that amount dropped to $2,000. The money helps to pay bills; it may buy an outboard motor or a family trip to Anchorage.