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Yukon River residents ask the feds to take over salmon management from the state

A day's catch of king salmon and red salmon can provide a family with food for the winter.
A day's catch of king salmon and red salmon can provide a family with food for the winter.

Last summer, villages along the Yukon River felt desperation after both the Chum and King salmon runs in the river drainage disappeared. The federal government declared a fisheries disaster, and the state coordinated fish donations from canneries in Bristol Bay to villages upriver.

Now residents along the Yukon are asking to take management of the subsistence fishery out of the hands of the state, and have the feds take over instead.

On Tuesday, March 29 the Federal Subsistence Board heard telephone testimony about the crash of Yukon River Salmon.

“It’s a tough situation, it’s a really tough choice to have to make. What we’re experiencing now is not working. We need something different," Bruce Ervin of Fairbanks said during the testimony. “We’re a system that’s broken. It impacts everyone from the ocean, all the way to our brothers and sisters in Canada.”

A formal appeal, called a Temporary Special Action Request was filed with the Board by four parties: a resident of Rampart, the Holy Cross Tribe, the Native Village of Eagle, and a resident of Huslia.

In their formal requests, they ask the Federal Subsistence Board to uphold the conservation and priority consumptive use provisions (under Title III and Title VIII) of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA.

They ask the board to take over management of the Yukon River’s Chinook, and summer and fall Chum salmon throughout the 2022 season. Anthropologist Pippa Kenner works on Harvest Monitoring for the Board and read from the appeals:

“In the request, the proponents write: 'Significant changes have occurred since the board last considered Yukon river drainage salmon special action requests in 2015. Yukon Chinook and Chum salmon populations have suffered catastrophic declines in abundance in recent years, culminating in the 2021 season providing no harvest opportunities and creating significant food security concerns along amongst Yukon River tribes and residents,'” Kenner read.
The requestors also asked that the feds close the river to salmon fishing. The appeals read: "Federal public waters of the Yukon River drainage to the harvest of Chinook and summer and fall Chum Salmon except by Federally qualified subsistence users from June 1 through September 30, and Further reduce the pool of eligible harvesters based on the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) Section 804 Subsistence User Prioritization analysis."

The requestors want the feds close the river to salmon fishing this summer, to everyone except federally qualified subsistence users. There is a definition of that in ANILCA, and generally it means traditional subsistence users but also those without easy access to another food source.

The requestors said the state was violating ANILCA by allow commercial fishermen to have priority over subsistence users.
The Yukon River drainage is the largest in the state of Alaska and provides residents from over 60 communities with fishery resources. Nicolas Tucker Sr. testified that he did not support any one entity having management of the river.

“The more informed anyone is, and more expertise and much more data, the more wiser and much more sustainable decisions they make for anywhere, including the salmon resource. The State of Alaska and Federal managers both have expertise in their area. I’m 100 percent for co-management of our salmon resource,” Tucker Sr. said.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Deputy Commissioner Ben Mulligan spoke for the state. He says the state is the entity responsible for Alaska’s part of the salmon treaty with Canada.

“If the Special Action Requests are approved, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and season management would still need to seek our guidance and approval for any management actions they recommend as this would impact the obligations the Department of Fish and Game has under the Pacific Salmon Treaty as a responsible management entity to manage for the objectives for Canadian-origin stock,” Mulligan said.

The Federal Subsistence Board will meet to discuss the requests on May 5.
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