by Steven M. Alexie, Kuskokwim river subsistence User
A letter to Michael Dunleavey, Honorable Governor of the Great State of Alaska.
Honorable Governor Dunleavey,
I wrote to you this past spring/summer with regards to closure or at least some sort of number of chums pass through False Pass for migrating chum to their spawning grounds. While I saw increased numbers of chum for our Kuskokwim River with the decreased commercial activities for Alaska Peninsula Area M Commercial Fisheries, which I very much appreciate for the well being of my people. I also think that your administration has not done enough to protect the Yukon King and Chum both summer and fall stocks.
Below is an Alaska Statute/s:
Alaska state law directs the Board of Game and Board of Fisheries to provide a reasonable opportunity for subsistence uses first, before providing for other uses of any harvestable surplus of a fish or game population [AS 16.05.258 (b)]. This is often referred to as the “subsistence preference” or sometimes the “subsistence priority.”
Having said that, it is clear to me that your administration, staff of Fish and Game and commissioners, Boards of Fisheries have failed us in providing that necessity for the people of the Yukon, Kuskokwim and also Norton sound people, which you’re married into that region, and have in-laws. Four years have already come and gone and while you have kept some of those promises that you made to the constituents of the State of Alaska, you have failed the natives of Alaska miserably.
For nearly a decade the Kuskokwim river has gone under Federal Management to conserve and hopefully restore our (Chinook) King Salmon populations back to healthy and sustainable populations. Last year 2021 was the first time since I can remember our chum salmon collapsed, while we were under heavy restrictions along with our neighboring river, the Mighty Yukon River.
I watched Area M commercial fisheries continuing to commercially fish for what I think they were targeting Red Salmon and incidentally caught Chum by the millions. Nearly 2.2 million chums were caught. I know the majority of these fish were bound for their natal rivers. These Chum Salmon which may have been bound to Norton Sound areas, Yukon or Kuskokwim Rivers never made it to their spawning grounds for the next populations of Fish.
All salmon returning to any river systems in the State of Alaska are essential and a vital part of our Subsistence way of life and ecosystem. I’ve watched elders from the past who’ve gone to advocate for the very same thing that I am trying to voice and let our voices be heard. Our convenience store (Kusko, Yukon, and Norton Sound Rivers) have been knocking at the door. Year after year we are heavily restricted with fishing. Fish populations continuing to decline no matter how much we try conserving.
I think the State of Alaska needs to live up to its word, laws, regulations or whatever you may call it. Subsistence comes first before any commercial or sports fisheries activities. In this day and age of high technology I am surprised that we are not capable of making very basic forecasts of where these fish we have been fighting for are bound for. What does the State of Alaska need to see before actions are made? An extinction of fish and wildlife? For the sake of conservation please make an administrative or executive order for a short closure of Area M commercial fisheries. Or at least until a certain number of Chums and Kings have passed that area.
I thank you for your time and consideration in this matter. Respectfully,
Steven M. Alexie
Kuskokwim Subsistence Fisherman