Federal Proposals Could Drastically Alter Yukon River Salmon Fishery
The Yukon River might be frozen, but the fight for the shrinking number of salmon that will be swimming up the river in five months is already heating up.
FAIRBANKS - The Yukon River might be frozen, but the fight for the shrinking number of salmon that will be swimming up the river in five months is already heating up.
The Federal Subsistence Board will begin a four-day meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday to debate several proposals that could drastically limit and change subsistence fishing on the Yukon River, the state's largest subsistence fishery.
While most of the proposals likely will be rejected by the board - they are opposed by regional advisory councils, the federal Office of Subsistence Management and the state Department of Fish and Game - they illustrate the tension and frustration fishermen are feeling after several years of poor runs and restrictions on commercial and subsistence fishing in an effort to get more fish on the spawning grounds.
"Folks are looking for someone to blame," said Department of Fish and Game deputy commissioner Craig Fleener, who grew up in Fort Yukon. "I don't think there is anyone to blame. If you talk to the fisheries biologists, they say the same thing - we're in a downturn of production. Whatever is causing that downturn in production is causing a lot of pain, and that gets translated into trying to find a scapegoat."
State and federal managers are formulating management strategies for this year's chinook run, but they have already said that, barring an unexpected turnaround, there will almost certainly be restrictions in place on this year's king salmon run and the chances of any commercial king fishery are slim.
"There's frustration and people are getting more aggravated," said Fred Bue, Yukon area fisheries biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Fairbanks. "People have been conserving and it's not seeming to help a lot."
The loss of commercial fishing for king salmon on the lower Yukon, once a lucrative business for fishermen in that region, has left residents grasping for straws to rebuild the fishery, said state fisheries biologist Steve Hayes, the Yukon area manager for the Department of Fish and Game.
Some of the proposals targeting fishermen on the middle and upper Yukon River were submitted by a group of fishermen from the lower Yukon village of Mountain Village, apparently in retaliation for a proposal adopted by the state Board of Fisheries last year that will reduce the size of mesh allowed in fishing nets this season to 7 1/2 inches. The smaller mesh is aimed at reducing the harvest of the oldest and largest kings.