Subsistence fishermen take to the water inspite of closures

Update 10:30 a.m.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has decided to allow Southwest Alaska subsistence fishermen to catch chum and sockeye salmon on the lower Kuskokwim River starting Friday.

But the ban on catching king salmon remains in place until the end of the month.

Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell said it appears that there is a low abundance of Chinook salmon. She says that is a concern given the importance of the subsistence fishery.

Original Story:

Subsistence fishing for salmon is happening on the Kuskokwim River even though closures are in place.

Several villages and dozens of boats participated Wednesday.

Yup’ik tribal elders have been meeting with village fishers and telling them that it they should fish for their families. A handful of tribes put out resolutions saying they have the right to fish as sovereign governments. The village of Napaskiak sent theirs all the way to D.C. to Ken Salazar, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

That village had about a dozen boats out in the water yesterday afternoon.

In Akiak, about 30 miles upriver of Bethel, the peaceful fishing protest turned to war as one resident called it. Wildlife law enforcement officials arrived in a boat, and cited three fishers and seized their nets.

“Soon as I set, Troopers were waiting right there,” Sam Jackson said.

Jackson was one of those fishers. He was reached by cell phone in his boat.

“What I told them is that we’re not protest fishing but we’re fishing for our people,” Jackson said. “But they still, they would not budge.”

Jackson says one of the nets was cut up in front of them.

The community responded in force. Women and children filled boats and drifted along side fishers supporting their efforts. They held signs that read “feed your families, go fish.”

Sheila Williams, Akiak’s Tribal Administrator, talked with the officers.

“I spoke with them at length and they were asking us to hold off and I told them that at the directions. They’re going to go fishing,” Williams said.

“I’m at the mercy of my elders. The elders say to go fish, they’re going to go fish. And so they’re fishing.”

Law enforcement attempted to land a plane near Akiak, but Jackson said there were too many boats and they flew off. Residents were not sure if they would return, but fishers continued to fish anyway.

The Kuskokwim River has been closed to fishing for over a week in some areas. Fish managers say they plan to open fishing for 3 days, starting Friday for the lowest part of the river. And then they will close it again for an unspecified amount of time.

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