Emperor goose harvest: More than a memory for Kodiak subsistence hunter

Deines, F - U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.
Deines, F – U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Subsistence hunters want to eat the foods traditional to Kodiak Island, and that includes one bird that’s been off-limits since 1987 due to low numbers: the emperor goose. The Kodiak region of the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council has put in a request to the statewide council for hunting access to the white-headed, gray-bodied bird.

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According the subsistence proposal, the Sun’aq Tribe and the Kodiak-Aleutians Regional Advisory Council are among two of the groups asking to harvest emperor geese for subsistence.

One lifelong Kodiak resident, John Reft, has been both a commercial fisherman and a subsistence hunter, and remembers when he stopped seeing large flocks of geese.

“Earlier there was emporer geese flying around and we’d be able to shoot ‘em, but then all of a sudden, the emperor geese kind of disappeared, and there was a flock of 13. And I’d see ‘em out there, on the outside of the Ardinger’s Island there on the rocks, just sitting up there and never bothered ‘em because there wasn’t any of ‘em.”

Reft says later, the government enacted laws against hunting the emperor goose, but he says he’s seen more of them in the last five or so years around Womens Bay.

Emporer geese at the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters/Flickr
Emporer geese at the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters/Flickr

“You’d be waiting for ducks to come by and there would be no ducks and then all of a sudden here comes flocks and flocks of these emperor geese. I mean, they’d fly so low and so many – 75 and a 100 and a bunch – then you just wonder if you had a dipnet, you’d feel like you could just put it up there and grab a couple.”

In fact, Reft says there’s been an influx of emperor geese and they’re chasing away the ducks.

“We start talking and saying man ‘we’re getting overrun by these guys and they’re pushing the ducks out where we have to go get the skiffs to go find the ducks now because they’re feeding farther away from all these big emperor geese.’ So, I don’t know if they’re just eating up the food there or birds are afraid of them or what, but it’s hard to get ducks out there where you saw hundreds.”

Reft says he hopes to gain subsistence access to the geese this year. That’s something that will come before the statewide AMBCC at its fall meeting at the end of this month in Fairbanks.