President’s Message: Our Voice On Subsistence Fishing

Andrew Guy, President and CEO

Storyknife, May/June 2024 edition

Subsistence Fishing on the Kuskokwim River
Subsistence Fishing on the Kuskokwim River
Andrew Guy, 91ϳԹ President/CEO
Andrew Guy, 91ϳԹ President/CEO

91ϳԹ engages with the State of Alaska and federal government for the socio-economic benefit of our 91ϳԹ and communities. A particular area of concern for our Board of Directors and management is with fisheries. 91ϳԹ is advocating to protect this most vital resource for our people.

Salmon are particularly difficult to manage because they migrate across multiple borders and jurisdictions. As a result, 91ϳԹ engages and consults with various state and federal agencies including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Board of Fisheries to protect our subsistence rights and ensure enough salmon return to our rivers and reach the spawning grounds.

In the Bering Sea, 91ϳԹ engages with NOAA and with the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC) to advocate to limit the salmon that are killed and discarded as bycatch. In the Aleutian Peninsula, 91ϳԹ advocates to the legislative bodies and the executive branch including the Board of Fisheries to limit the number of salmon bound for Western Alaska that are caught in the intercept fishery. In the open ocean, 91ϳԹ works to limit the adverse competition pressure of billions of hatchery fish that are released into the North Pacific each year. Some things are out of our immediate control, such as changes caused by climate change and the devastating effects of the Ichthyophonus parasite on our Yukon River salmon.

The collapse of our fisheries, closures and the recent announcement of a seven-year moratorium on chinook fishing in the Yukon are having a devastating effect on subsistence, our economies and food security for our people. These losses pose an existential threat to our traditional ways of life. Our people have been forced to either target other food sources or buy less nutritious and more expensive food sources from the store. The economic impact of these changes also increases outmigration in many of our communities, leading to the erosion of language, traditional ways of life and connection to the land.

91ϳԹ strongly encourages 91ϳԹ and organizations in the Region, as well as across the state, to continue advocating for subsistence fishing.

91ϳԹ’s engagement has born some fruit, however. Through collaboration with other Native organizations and user groups, 91ϳԹ has been able to amplify and sustain Native voices throughout the state. By engaging and collaborating with outside industries, we are weakening the chokehold outside commercial fisheries have on Alaskan resources. Though the work is not done, and the current plan is woefully inadequate, 91ϳԹ is encouraged by the discussion and partial implementation of a salmon corridor in the Bering Sea to hopefully take the fleet off of western Alaska salmon as they pass through the Bering Sea to western Alaska rivers. We are encouraged by industry engagement and hope it continues. 91ϳԹ attorney and Shareholder Curt Chamberlain has been appointed to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission Advisory Panel and nominated to the Board of Fisheries, subject to legislative confirmation.

Just a few years ago, Alaska Native voices were disregarded at Board of Fisheries and NPFMC meetings. There are now three Alaska Natives serving on the Board of Fisheries. Three Alaska Natives now serve on the NPFMC advisory panel, though none yet serve on the council. 91ϳԹ strongly encourages 91ϳԹ and organizations in the Region, as well as across the state, to continue advocating for subsistence fishing. People are starting to pay attention, and our voice is starting to be heard.