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Y-K Delta subsistence council talks fishing and low salmon runs: 'these restrictions are killing our culture'

A gillnet stretches across the Kuskokwim River near Napaskiak on June 12, 2018.
Katie Basile
A gillnet stretches across the Kuskokwim River near Napaskiak on June 12, 2018.

During a meeting on Oct. 27 in Bethel, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Subsistence Regional Advisory Council discussed another season of low salmon runs and restrictions on fishing.

Myron Naneng is vice-chair of the local committee, he said that overregulation of subsistence fishing left fish racks and smoke houses empty.

“We don’t want continued regulation that further restricts,” Naneng said. “In essence, these restrictions are killing our culture.”

But even as subsistence users are restricted, Naneng said that commercial fishing has continued. That means that bycatch, which is when commercial fishermen catch fish that they are not supposed to be targeting, has too.

At the meeting, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council presented their latest report on salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea.

Many, like Naneng, said that bycatch is a big reason why salmon runs in the region have been crashing.

But Diana Stram, a senior scientist for the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, said that while the council acknowledges the salmon crash in Western Alaska, it’s not just bycatch that’s the problem.

“The best information we have is the climate is the primary driver of poor salmon returns,” Stram said.

Still, Stram said that the council is working on ways to reduce salmon bycatch.

Currently, the federal council only releases bycatch studies on chinook and chum salmon. Naneng and others at the meeting told Stram that they would like to see data on bycatch of other species too, like coho.

The committee continues their meeting on Oct. 28 at 9 a.m. at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center in Bethel. That meeting is open to the public.

Nina is a temporary news reporter at KYUK. She comes to Bethel from NPR, where she's a producer at Morning Edition.