Tribal representatives took the first steps on Wednesday towards establishing the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. The group intends to push for co-management of salmon stocks and more direct involvement for tribal fisherman.
The river is currently split between state and federal jurisdiction. Mark Leary from Napaimute explained that when you cross a line at Aniak, the regulations significantly change.
“It’s madness,” said Leary.
Leary says that inconsistency is one reason for Tribes on the Kuskokwim to form the commission. Myron Naneng is the President of the Association of Village Council Presidents and says co-management is due because tribal members bear the brunt of conservation measures.
“They go back to our people and say you should follow this rule and regulation and you should cooperate. No, that’s no longer the case if we’re going to come up with the rules and regulations we’re going to work on…let’s do it at an equal level with the state and federal government. So we are protecting our rights to hunt and fish,” said Naneng.
Organizers envision a structure in which the commission works in tandem with federal and state agencies. Draft federal legislation would authorize agreements in which the commission formulates management plans and has a direct role in run assessments, test fishing, and sharing local knowledge. Wayne Morgan is from Aniak.
“No more [being] pushed, shoved aside by state or federal managers, saying thank you for your comment AVCP, thank you for your comment, tribal council, we’ll take that into consideration,” said Morgan.
A draft resolution includes accepting steep conservation measures, including a moratorium on king salmon harvest this year besides fish for traditional funeral potlatches and a small community harvest of king salmon.
Another pillar of the plans calls for reducing bycatch of king salmon in Bering Sea trawl fisheries. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which regulates the fishery, meets in Nome next week.
Sky Starkey, an attorney who advises AVCP, says groups will push the council to cut the season limit on king salmon bycatch from 47,500 to just above 14,000.
“And we think that might be achievable. And we think if we can drive it down that low, it will be really hard for them to ever bring it back up. From there we’ll continue to try to bring it down eventually to zero,” said Starkey.
They are also pushing for a tribal seat on the council and setting steep fines for bycatch.
To fund the Kuskokwim River Intertribal Fish Commission, Naneng is seeking a million dollars in federal fishery disaster funds, as well as other grants. Next steps include creating a 10-person steering committee to further organize and bring together tribes to formally establish the commission.
Delegates met in St. Mary’s last week to put the pieces in place for the Yukon Fish Commission.