Concern for overfished king salmon run Lowest Bethel Test Fisheries numbers ever
Salmon strips hang in a smokehouse in Napaimute. (Photo courtesy of Mark Leary)
We were very glad to get all the good reports from our friends and family all along the Lower River when the Kings started showing up. With all of this good news we looked forward to good fishing in the Middle and Upper River too. But it hasn’t happened and we need to talk about this openly before we all fish the King salmon out of existence on the Kuskokwim.
This isn’t about a late run – it’s about a weak run that was overfished.
We know now that the Kings are not coming to the Middle and Upper Kuskokwim in any great numbers as was seen downriver.
It’s hard for the People to understand. We all want to keep doing what we’ve been doing: unlimited subsistence fishing without restriction – just like our Elders and the generations before them...
...but we don’t live in the time of our Elders.
The population of the Lower River has gotten too big and the People are so good at what they do (fishing) that we now have the potential to wipe out a salmon run – especially if it is weak like this 2010, 2012, and now this year.
It doesn’t matter if there are a million King salmon entering the mouth of the River if only 100,000 get past Bethel and that’s what’s happening. It looks like a good run for the Lower River People when they can catch all they want but the reality is there is barely anything left over for the People further up let alone for spawning. We are slowly killing the Kuskokwim Subsistence King Salmon Fishery.
Please look at the 2010 U.S. Census for our region. There are 17,000 People in the Bethel census area. This includes all of the villages along the Kuskokwim and the Coastal villages just north and south of the mouth. Most of this population is centered around Bethel and the villages within a 50 mile radius.
They talk about “out migration” from rural Alaska. It’s not true for our region. Our population continues to grow at 2% a year. That’s about 400 more people annually. Like adding another village to our region each year. And this population increase isn’t from people moving to our region – it’s from us – making babies. We love our children. Shelly and I have added 5 of our own to this increase.
...and each one of our five children grew up with fish and fishing.
...and each one is going to want to fish and eat fish when they have their own families.
What are we going to leave for them?
Or better yet, what are we going to give them?
I truly believe that we need to talk openly about this as we plan for the future of our region. As the population continues to grow we are not going to be able to do everything that we have always done: Hunt and fish without limits.
But if we openly talk about it now combined with better local/tribal control over management (the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group needs to be restructured so that ADF&G only plays an advisory role instead of having the final say) I believe we can preserve much of the essence of subsistence. We may not all be able to harvest 100 King salmon anymore, but we will still be able to get an amount that is sustainable and fair to all of us along the River – especially our descendants.
Mark Leary writes from Napaimute, AK.