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Group seeks action to protect Yukon River salmon and subsistence

Skiffs line the Yukon River bank near the Kwik'Pak fish plant in Emmonak, Alaska on June 15, 2019.
Anna Rose MacArthur
Skiffs line the Yukon River bank near the Kwik'Pak fish plant in Emmonak, Alaska on June 15, 2019.

The Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission is requesting special action relative to this summer’s management of depressed salmon stocks.

The commission is asking the Federal Subsistence Board to limit fishing for Yukon River chinook, chum, and coho salmon on federal waters of the river to rural residents in accordance with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).

“The federal government needs to uphold the provisions of ANILCA and give subsistence priority to people living on the river, who depend on the fish to feed our families,” said commission chair Eagle Village Chief Karma Ulvi during a March 20 public hearing on the Special Action Request (SAR), which also asks the board to require the federal fisheries manager to determine salmon harvest openings, closings, and gear types.

“For two decades, management by the State of Alaska has failed to ensure sustainable salmon populations by meeting escapement goals and ensuring that subsistence is the highest priority use, over commercial fishing,” Ulvi said.

Ulvi was critical of last summer’s federal management, which she said mirrored state actions. Federal biologist Holly Carrol addressed the practical challenge of managing fishing along a patchwork of state and federal waters.

“Quite honestly, we purposely coordinate with the state to make sure that we don’t have one area closed and another area open, right? Because that wouldn’t protect salmon, and we all want to protect salmon,” Carrol said.

Meanwhile, Carrol said that managers are expecting another weak chinook return this summer.

“We had an escapement last year of about 15,000 fish, and this year our forecast isn’t for a much larger run,” Carrol said. “ If there is any fishing for subsistence, it is likely to be on the summer chum.”

The Federal Subsistence Board will consider the commission’s Yukon River Special Action Request at an April 15 meeting.