Stand for Salmon Today and Tomorrow in the Y-K Delta

by Danielle Craven

Here on the Kuskokwim, we are thankful for the first opening this past week where many of our families enjoyed the sharing of the first catch, fresh boiled fish, and began the harvest and preparation for winter. Fish is a part of our life in Bethel on the Kuskokwim, and it always has been. The salmon are so important for us and for all our families who live along this mighty river.
Nothing from a restaurant can compare to the delicacy of my mother’s tepeq – fermented fish heads – in the summer, sulunaq in the winter, or dried fish on the tundra. Since I was a child, fish has been a part of the meaning of hard work and livelihood in our family. The preparation of gathering around the seasons and processing the precious blessing of fish: smelt, kings, chums, reds, silvers, white fish, lush, blackfish, and pike. Not to mention those of you on the Coast working hard preparing herring and halibut, and those of you on the Yukon with the fresh eels during freeze-up, special treats to those of us on the Kuskokwim.
This summer, all of our families in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta are beginning the harvest of hard work putting away salmon. It is a way of life for us and has always been this way for people in our Y-K Delta region. In a complex world, it is not always easy to know how to take care of something we value as much as salmon. What we do know is that we want our rivers to be healthy and we want to our children to continue the way of life we have learned and valued.
How can we keep our rivers healthy for our salmon? The salmon streams are all across our Kuskokwim region, down the Johnson, up the Kuik – an area almost as big as the state of Pennsylvania. It’s all salmon country. How can we be caretakers of such a big place, both upriver and downriver?
There is a way for us to care for salmon for the whole Kuskokwim, all of the Yukon, and all across the state of Alaska. We can be caretakers of our salmon streams by supporting Stand for Salmon at the ballot box in November. Now is the time to learn about what Stand for Salmon is and why your vote helps Alaska’s salmon and our Yup’ik way of life.
Many of us are concerned about salmon. With recent regulations to protect salmon populations, we all have questioned: Will we get our fish? Will there be healthy kings? Will we have fishing openers? Thank God, we have been able to fill our freezers in the last two years and continue to depend on the fresh water of the Kuskokwim.
The modern-day pressures on Alaska’s lands and waters are changing from what they were in the past, but the outdated Alaska law governing development in salmon habitat is now 60 years old. Our state’s fish habitat law was written for a different time. Fish were more abundant then. There weren’t as many threats to our salmon streams and there weren’t Outside fishing trawlers.
Our climate is changing, oceans are warmer and even the proposed mines are so much larger and of a completely different type than they were in our grandparents’ time. Our population has grown.
This is why the Alaska Board of Fisheries asked the Legislature to create clear, enforceable standards and set up ways to inform the public about development proposed for salmon habitat. The board’s request was in response to a proposal submitted by 13 Alaskans representing a variety of salmon user groups with a common concern over the future of the state’s salmon habitat.
But the Legislature didn’t pass a new salmon habitat law. We still need protection for our salmon and fish habitats. In January, Stand for Salmon submitted nearly 50,000 signatures to take the question directly to Alaskan voters in a ballot initiative in the fall. This is an important voting time.
Stand for Salmon comes at a critical moment in Alaska’s history. It provides an opportunity to update this outdated 60-year-old law. This creates clear rules and brings certainty to development projects while giving all Alaskans a voice in protecting our salmon and our way of life. It does not pose more regulations; rather it updates and creates stronger statutes to protect our fish and water.
Stand for Salmon updates the Alaska state law in four key ways. First, it clears up confusion about defining salmon streams. The second update expands the state listings of salmon streams to make sure important waters are protected by law. This means no salmon stream will be left unprotected.
A third update requires Alaska Department of Fish and Game to notify the public when it comes to major projects that could impact our salmon and our way of life, like the Donlin Mine project, which presents many environmental risks to the future of our fish.
For all of us who want future generations to enjoy abundant salmon runs in the same way that we have in our lifetimes, these updates make sense. They provide a way for us to get ready for the future.
We must all be caretakers of our salmon, our fish, and our way of life. We need to care for the water and preserve healthy water on the Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers. Join me in voting yes for salmon at the ballot box in November. Let’s stand for salmon together by Voting Yes for Salmon!
Danielle Craven is a resident of Bethel, AK.