Yukon Subsistence Fishermen May Face More Restrictions

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Yukon River subsistence fishermen may be facing further restrictions if a number of proposals now before the Federal Subsistence Board gain approval.  The Board is meeting this week in Anchorage.  Proposals under discussion could restrict drift gillnets in some Yukon River districts, and may prohibit the use of fish wheels in mid-river and upper-Yukon areas.  The proposals are driven by dwindling Yukon Chinook salmon runs, and they are not favored by tribal leaders in upriver villages from Kaltag to Fort Yukon.  Several proposals that are guaranteed to prove contentious  affect  customary trade, or the practice of selling subsistence caught fish, which is allowed under federal regulations.   One proposal would limit cash from such sales to $750 per household.

That’s Harry Wilde, chair of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Regional Advisory Council.  Fishermen in the lower-Yukon’s Mountain Village submitted it, along with two other proposals affecting customary trade of subsistence caught salmon targeting upper-Yukon fishermen.  Wednesday, the panel tackled the question of customary trade of subsistence salmon in the Yukon River management areas  during years in which Chinook harvests are reduced.  After a morning of discussion in which there was no agreement, Board member Geoff Haskett offered an amendment to defer the main proposal, then offered a move which would allow three RAC’s to form a subcommittee to come up with a recommendation on customary sales.

Although there is no time frame on the move, the RAC’s were urged to move quickly in an attempt to get recommendations in front of the board by fall.  The practice of selling subsistence fish has expanded due to increased commercial fishing closures and a recent investigation into the practice revealed that some fishermen selling smoked Yukon subsistence salmon were making thousands in profit.

Andy Firmin, from Fort Yukon, and chair of the Eastern Interior RAC, said Wednesday the new compromise is not perfect, but it is better than the proposals on the table now. He said he had mixed feelings about Haskett’s amendment.

Wilde, on the other hand, said he was feeling more positive.

A Yukon River Chinook conservation plan is also on the Board’s agenda this week.  Haskett says the issue affects the entire Yukon drainage, and it is up to the people to conserve salmon.

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