Tribes urge Commerce Department to eliminate Chinook bycatch

Tribal entities representing thousands of western Alaska Natives are calling on Commerce Secretary Gina Marie Raimondo to take emergency action to eliminate the incidental catch of Chinook salmon and set a cap on chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea Pollock trawl fishery for the 2022 fishery.

The petition was signed on Wednesday, Dec. 22, by Kawerak, Inc., the Association of Village Council Presidents, The Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, the Bering Sea Elders Group, the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, and the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

“The Secretary has a trust responsibility to the tribes and protecting the salmon that form the foundation of our community’s food security and culture is of the utmost importance,” said Julie Raymond-Yakoubian, of Kawerak, Inc., the nonprofit health and social services agency serving 20 rural communities in Western Alaska.

This past summer, fish racks, smokehouses and fish camps across the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and Norton Sound region stood empty after the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the fishery to all commercial and subsistence fishing because of the dearth of Chinook and chum salmon.

“After a multi-species, multi-river salmon collapse, our people are facing a winter without the Chinook and chum salmon which are critical to the lifeblood of our over 110 regional tribal communities and are central to our culture,” said Brooke Woods, of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Villages impacted by the ban on fishing have received several donations of thousands of pounds of Chinook and chum salmon, a collaborative effort with various deliveries coming together with donations of fish from processors, and the state of Alaska, with transport of the fish donated or done at a reduced cost by several transportation entities and the Alaska Air National Guard.

Total donations, however, are significantly less than the number of kings and chum salmon normally caught in subsistence harvests.