Western Alaska villagers have endured the worst chum salmon runs on record, several years of anemic Chinook salmon runs in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, harvest closures from the Bering Sea coast to Canada’s Yukon Territory and such dire conditions that they relied on emergency shipments of salmon from elsewhere in Alaska just to have food to eat.
Many of those suffering see one way to provide some quick relief: Large vessels trawling for pollock and other groundfish in the industrial-scale fisheries of the Bering Sea, they say, must stop intercepting so many salmon.
Advocates for tighter rules on those interceptions, known as bycatch, made their case over the past several days to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the organization that manages fish harvests in federal waters off Alaska.
‘Like fishing in the desert’
“The numbers are really low. There’s nothing out there. It’s like fishing in the desert,” Walter Morgan, of the Yup’ik village of Lower Kalskag, said in online testimony to the council, which met in Sitka.
He described how conditions have deteriorated since his childhood in the 1960s, when his family could put a single net in the water and pull out enough fish to fill their boat. “It’s getting even harder to go out and fish and catch those one or two salmon that we need,” he said. “We need it. That’s our identity. That’s been my identity since I was born.”
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