by the Akiak Native Community
The following is a letter to Federal Subsistence Board Chairman Anthony Christianson from the Akiak Native Community, dated April 16th, 2019.
We are writing to amend and clarify Temporary Special Action Request FSA 19-02 submitted by the Akiak Native Community on March 1, 2019. We request that the Federal Subsistence Board consider the following actions:
1) Close the Kuskokwim River Drainage to the harvest of Chinook salmon except by federally qualified subsistence users possessing a community harvest permit between June 1, 2019 and July 1, 2019.
2) Reduce the pool of eligible harvesters within the Kuskokwim River Drainage based on the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) Section 804 Subsistence User Prioritization implemented in 2017.
3) Conduct tribal consultation with the federally recognized tribes identified in the 2014 Office of Subsistence Management (OSM) Section 804 analysis to develop an appropriate Chinook salmon harvest allocation strategy.
4) Allow community members named in the 2014 OSM Section 804 analysis to harvest Chinook Salmon on the Kuskokwim River Drainage under a community allocation system with harvest reported to Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge staff by community based monitors.
The 2019 projected return for Chinook salmon to the Kuskokwim River is between 110,000 and 150,000. The State of Alaska has determined the amounts necessary for subsistence (ANS) uses of Chinook salmon on the Kuskokwim River Drainage to be within the range of 67,200 and 109,800. This projection raises significant concerns for the potential to achieve both the upper end of the escapement goal and the amounts necessary for subsistence uses of Chinook salmon on the Kuskokwim River in 2019.
The above restrictions on waters adjacent to public and state lands and native allotments along the Kuskokwim River main stem and tributaries are necessary to assure for the continued viability and opportunity for subsistence uses of Chinook salmon on public lands. These actions are also consistent with upholding federal agencies responsibilities in ANILCA Sections 802 and 804.
The State of Alaska’s assessment of the management of our Kuskokwim Fisheries in the supplemental materials included in your packet fails to recognize some key points. Commercial fishing for Chinook salmon in the Kuskokwim River Drainage has not occurred since 1992. The last time the midpoint of the ANS for Chinook salmon was achieved on the Kuskokwim River was in 2008. We have not met the upper range of the amounts necessary for subsistence since documentation began in 1976.
Now we are fighting for our right to simply practice our culture and fish for Chinook salmon in our ancestral homelands. We disagree with the ADF&G’s assertion that they are “capable of conserving Chinook salmon and providing subsistence opportunities to traditional harvesters of salmon in the Kuskokwim River Drainage” (2019 ADF&G).
The record continues to demonstrate declining escapement and harvest of Chinook salmon on the Kuskokwim River. Our young children especially need the opportunity to learn and practice our culture. The Federal Subsistence Board must act to ensure that our fish, rivers, and peoples remain healthy.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s (ADF&G) response to our request on p.159 of the supplemental materials found in your packet is concerning and further warrants the need to close the Kuskokwim River Drainage to the harvest of Chinook salmon by federally qualified subsistence users only. The ADF&G states, [They have the] “authority to provide a limited Chinook salmon opportunity in waters upstream of federal public waters during times of setnet closure under a permit allowing harvest of 10 Chinook salmon per household”.
ADF&G implemented such a subsistence permit for state residents during 2018 in the Kuskokwim River Drainage adjacent to state lands above Aniak. This statement is concerning for two reasons. First, the State of Alaska does not have the capacity in law to restrict harvest to all other users except federally qualified subsistence users when necessary. Second, permitting Alaskan residents to harvest up to 10 Chinook salmon per household in the Kuskokwim River Drainage during times when restricting harvest to and among federally qualified subsistence users is necessary conflicts with Congress’s intent in ANILCA Sections 802 and 804.
Some wonder whether federal and state agencies are working together to sow discord among our tribes by implementing conflicting and inequitable fisheries management strategies on public and state lands above and below Aniak. We hope this is not the case. Ours is a culture of sharing, caring, and respect. Management of our fisheries should be consistent with our cultural values and the strong importance we place on practicing sharing, caring, and respect in our communities.
There seems to be some confusion regarding our request to implement a community harvest allocation system. We are proposing that a community harvest permit be implemented authorizing the harvest of Chinook salmon by any member of the communities identified in the 2014 Section 804 analysis.
The total number of Chinook salmon to be harvested by eligible communities should be calculated in accordance with the formula based Upon the historical Chinook salmon harvest averages among each community identified in the 804 analysis.
We are not proposing a community harvest permit be issued to designated fishermen only in each community similar to what occurred on the Kuskokwim River in 2015. KRITFC and USFWS members of the Kuskokwim Fisheries In-season Management Team agreed upon this approach in response to the extremely low projected return of Chinook salmon in 2015.
A recent letter from the acting Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) Manager demonstrates a lack of confidence in our capacity to monitor harvest. These comments are extremely disrespectful at best. It reminds us that some of our federal and state partners lack trust in our capacity to be honest and manage our fisheries. Yet, they expect our trust in their management of our fisheries. Please recognize and understand that we have managed and cared for our fish since time immemorial.
It appears there is still much work to be done towards strengthening relationships with our partners. This work will require investing in programs designed to engage our tribes and partners in informal conversations on our lands. Agency staff and managers must travel to and get to know and understand our peoples and cultures. It is also important to share information in a timely manner.
The Refuge Manager’s letter to the FSB dated April 13 just two days before the FSB meeting did not provide an adequate amount of time to digest, discuss, and formulate a response to his proposed management strategy.
We do not concur with the Refuge Manager’s assertion that using a window opener approach to managing Kuskokwim Chinook salmon harvest “will maintain diverse salmon populations … and promote equitable harvest opportunities between lower and upriver communities”. This method is not a culturally appropriate strategy and presents several significant challenges to many of our communities.
Short window openings subject fish to intense harvest pressure and increase the risk for significant adverse effects to specific stocks. The intense fishing pressure observed during these openers is connected to the high anxiety felt in our communities. There is deep concern among many that if we do not get out and harvest all that we can during these short openings there may not be another opportunity.
Some of our community members are unable to fish during window openings. Sometimes this is simply due to being unable to afford the gas to fish or get off work during the short window openings. Often openings do not coincide with optimal drying times critical to processing our salmon.
Some peoples unfamiliar with our culture have suggested that we should simply use tarps and fans or garages to dry our fish during inclement weather. This is not our way of life, nor do our community members have the resources to make such changes.
Our goal is to continue using the framework identified in the KRITFC USFWS MOU to annually negotiate a strategy that seeks to achieve the upper bounds of escapement goals and meet our subsistence needs in the most flexible manner possible.
A community harvest allocation system is a culturally appropriate and flexible framework. It is an especially appropriate tool provided for in regulation when necessary to implement ANILCA 804 restrictions designed to limit the harvest of fish or wildlife species among federally qualified subsistence users.
We implore you to seriously consider our requests to uphold the intent, priorities, and responsibilities of ANILCA and aid us in ensuring that our fish, rivers, peoples, and cultures remain healthy.
-Chief Ivan Ivan, Akiak Native Community