State, partners deliver salmon donations for Yukon, Kuskokwim villages

Fish in cold storage in Emmonak, Fairbanks will be distributed to river villages

A collaborative partnership between the state of Alaska has delivered 12,928 pounds of keta salmon to the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks and Kwik’Pak Fisheries in Emmonak for distribution to Interior and western Alaska villages, in lieu of fish they are forbidden to harvest themselves this year.

“While this salmon donation is no substitution for subsistence fishing it is our hope that it can temporarily help fill the gap as we monitor the 2022 salmon returns to the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers,” said Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Tuesday, June 14. The distribution was a joint effort of the state of Alaska, Kwik’Pak Fisheries, Alaska Interior Fish Processors, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Copper River Seafoods, Lynden Air Cargo and Air Land Transport.

In the wake of poor salmon runs and subsequent fishing closures on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers in 2021, the state of Alaska provided two donations of salmon totaling 36,542 pounds and coordinated delivery of a third donation of 8,874 pounds of donated salmon to the region last summer. The federal Commerce Department announced in May the allocation of $132 million to Alaska for fishery disasters, of which $56 million is earmarked for the 2020 and 2021 Yukon River salmon fishery.

All of the salmon purchased to date for this distribution has been top grad quality from Copper River Seafoods, said Shannon Mason, deputy press secretary for the governor’s office.

“We wanted to focus on Kotzebue or regional salmon, but the quantities caught in regional commercial fisheries did not provide enough to meet our needs, generally a mix of Kotzebue and Prince William Sound salmon,” Mason said.

Tribal groups and representatives, including the Tanana Chiefs Conference and Association of Village Council Presidents, selected all of the communities chosen for distribution.

From Fairbanks the fish is to be sent to Interior communities via Alaska Fish Processors and from Emmonak by Kwik’Pak. Cold storage facilities are to jeep the fish frozen until distributed.

Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang said the salmon bycatch task force appointed earlier this year is looking at ways to reduce salmon bycatch, and the multinational Pan Pacific expedition gathering data in the North Pacific Ocean is assessing factors.

The governor’s office last November signed an administrative order creating the Alaska Bycatch Review Task Force to explain the impact of bycatch of high value fish in state and federal waters. The task force began meeting every month in January and is to deliver its recommendations to the governor in a report due by Nov. 30 of this year.