State sends salmon to Nome families hit hard by poor runs

Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2001

ANCHORAGE -- The state is sending almost 10,000 pounds of chum salmon to Nome families following another disastrous year for Norton Sound subsistence fishermen.

It is costing the state $13,000 to buy and ship the frozen salmon.

Much of Western Alaska suffered this summer from poor runs or low salmon prices. Most families, however, had caught enough salmon by the end of the season to meet subsistence needs, state and local officials said. The exception was Nome, with a sizable population of 3,500.

"This is the only place in the state where we knew subsistence needs weren't met," Bob King, spokesman for Gov. Tony Knowles, told the Anchorage Daily News.

The state Department of Community and Economic Development bought the salmon from the Coastal Villages Region Fund, a nonprofit fisheries development company in the Kuskokwim region.

The fish was caught in Western Alaska but stored at the Alaska Seafood International plant in Anchorage. It was to be flown to Nome today and distributed to elders and people in need.

"This will give people an opportunity to eat salmon this winter," said Loretta Bullard, president of Kawerak, the regional nonprofit corporation distributing the fish.

Nine rivers around Nome have salmon runs, and the region used to support a small commercial fishery in addition to subsistence salmon fishing. Depressed salmon prices and poor runs dating back to the late 1980s ended the commercial coho and pink fisheries.

In recent years, the state has severely limited subsistence fishing. The state granted only 30 permits this summer, to families that had a long history of subsistence fishing in Norton Sound.

Jim Menard, an area manager with the state Department of Fish and Game, estimated the total chum salmon catch this summer at just 500 to 600 fish.

Last year Kawerak distributed 16,000 pounds of donated fish to 250 families in Nome. During that summer, Menard said, the state granted subsistence fishing permits for chum salmon to just 10 families.

In summer 2000, disastrous salmon runs meant a lack of dog food. After mushers in Eagle and other Yukon River villages announced that they might need to shoot dogs rather than let them starve, animal welfare groups donated frozen salmon.

That has not been a problem this year, said Jan Parish, a recreational musher who lives in Eagle. Fishing on the upper Yukon was slightly better this year.

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