On this week’s Alaska Fisheries Report with Terry Haines: KYUK’s Anna Rose MacArthur reports on the close of subsistence salmon fishing on the Yukon. KRBD’s Raegan Miller offers a story about stream restoration in Ketchikan, and Angela Denning on budget cuts for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
Yukon Salmon Update Anna Rose MacArthur KYUK
Subsistence salmon fishing for Yukon River Chinook and summer Chum salmon will likely remain closed through the end of the season. It’s a possibility that fishery managers had warned could happen…ever since before the season began. KYUK’s Anna Rose MacArthur reports.
Expecting low returns, fishery managers said they would keep subsistence salmon fishing closed through the midpoint of the Chinook and summer Chum runs. Now, both those midpoints have passed the lower river, and neither indicate there will be enough fish to meet the goals managers set for fish to escape to their spawning grounds. Deena Jallen is a state fishery manager for the Yukon River.
“So unless these runs are abnormally, exceptionally, extremely late, it’s unlikely that we’ll get enough fish coming in, in the last part of this season.”
That possibility…is near impossible. Only about 20-percent of the average amount of Chinook and summer Chum have returned to the lower river [according to data from the Pilot Station sonar.] It’s the lowest Chinook run ever, and the second lowest summer Chum run, just barely more than what returned last year. Again, Deena Jallen.
“So we know that it’s incredibly disappointing. It’s extremely hard to see these runs come back so low. It’s hard to have fishing be closed. But that’s unfortunately what we have to do when the runs are this small.”
“Ugh, you know, it’s very, very quiet at the public boat landing in town. Almost eerily quiet.”
Yukon river residents called in to a weekly salmon teleconference on Tuesday [07/05]. The calls are hosted by the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association. A caller who identified herself as Ruby in Eagle said she simply couldn’t provide a subsistence report, since no one has been fishing. The community is facing other challenges, too.
“Very dry, very hot, lots of smoke. We haven’t had any measurable rain for a very long time, probably a month.”
Downriver, in Russian Mission, a caller who identified herself as Olga said an Elder has been asking her for a taste of fish.
“And then I told her that it’s not us that’s saying that they can’t fish; it’s just a regulation from way up high…and then she was practically crying and said, ‘Well, tell those people not to go shop for four weeks in their store. They have it easy to go to the store to get what they want to eat.’ ”
In some good news, Pink salmon counts are picking up in the lower river. Subsistence users can target Pink and Red salmon with four-inch mesh set nets, along with other gear types.
Holly Carroll is a federal fishery manager for the Yukon River. She asked fishermen to move their nets if they’re catching a lot of summer Chum or Chinook. She said it’s important each makes it to the spawning grounds.
“We have had years like this before, certainly for Chum in 2000 and 2001. And we recovered. And I have faith that we can recover again, and we’ll be fishing that species again, but just not this year.”
She also referenced the moratorium in 2013 and 2014, prohibiting all Chinook harvest, and the rebound that followed.
“So while it may be hard right now, I’m just trying to put out a message for hope that if we let these fish go by now, we will be fishing on them again in five years time, four years time for the Chum. That’s my hope. Maybe even less for the Chum; maybe two or three years we could see these runs rebound.”
In the meantime, salmon fishing remains closed on the Yukon River.
Restoration Raegan Miller KRBD
Ketchikan’s federally recognized tribe is working to improve fish habitat on lands that were once clear-cut. As KRBD’s Raegan Miller reports, Ketchikan Indian Community leaders hope the pilot program near a tributary to upper Ward Creek serves as a model for future stream restoration efforts all over the southern panhandle.
The woods surrounding upper Ward Creek echo with the buzz of mosquitoes, the groans of pulleys and winches, and the gurgle of water. A crew member calls a warning to “keep out of the bite,” — that’s the intersection of pulleys that hoist trees quickly through the streams.
Ketchikan’s tribe has been working on the land owned by Saxman’s village corporation, Cape Fox, with the goal of making the creek a better home for local fish. It’s a partnership with the Juneau-based regional nonprofit Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition.
Logging and the passage of time have changed the landscape of the creek. The harvesting reduced trees that once lined the stream banks to stumps. Stream banks are high and steep. Water levels are low.
Restoration biologist John Hudson says that’s hurt the populations of fish that call the creek home. The area is a tributary that feeds into Ward Creek, home to several salmon species, cutthroat trout and dolly varden.
“That can have some pretty negative repercussions for fish habitat, because it turns out when a tree dies or it’s blown over by the wind and falls into the stream, it creates (an) amazing habitat for the fish. And so absent the old growth forest that’s here right now to die and fall into the stream, the fish habitat is deteriorating. It’s going downhill.”
So the crew has been taking trees from farther beyond the creek, and replacing the deteriorating trees in the creek.
Members of the crew use a capstan winch to help fell stronger Sitka spruce trees to replace weaker alders in the water.
Hudson explains that it’s a way to slow down the fast-moving water in this eroded creek bed
“What you could do in a situation like this, is cut down trees, bring them in with hand powered or gas winches, and embed them in the stream in a way that you’re blocking or damming the stream a little bit to trap sediment.”
Hudson says restoration work can provide a nice resting place for these fish by fortifying natural debris jams and criss-crossing fallen logs.
“It creates these incredible pools, we call them scour pools or plunge pools. And these pools are critically important for fish. It’s a low energy place to hang out, they don’t have to swim against the current.”
But while the work involves felling trees to be hauled into the creek, there’s a balance to be struck. Tony Gallegos (Guy-ay-goes), the cultural resources director for Ketchikan Indian Community, says the work is meant to disrupt the environment as little as possible.
“The whole idea is we’re not getting heavy equipment in here to tear up this, we’re repairing, what can we do by hand?”
And it’s demanding. Some of the work is done with gas-powered winches. Some is done by hand or with pulleys looped around the trunks of strong trees.
It’s a small local crew making it happen.
Ameila Hayward of Metlakatla and Josephine Guthrie of Klawock are two of the crewmembers who have been trained by KIC and SAWC to help with the restoration. They recently got back from a 10-day restoration project near Margaret Creek, about 24 and a half miles from Ketchikan.
They got weeks of on-the-job training back in May. Neither had done any work like this before. Guthrie says she wants to keep going, despite the fact that the Ward Creek job is almost done.
“I learned a lot just being here, but I want to do more with the whole saw part of it.”
Gallegos said KIC is in the process of partnering with SAWC and other groups to apply for more funds to keep up the work.
We’re seeing a resurgence of funding where it hasn’t really been in the past, so it’s kind of helping give some momentum.”
Keenan Sanderson is an Indigenous Food Sovereignty Specialist with the tribe. He says there’s more to it than dropping logs into streams. It’s a group effort to protect the salmon population.
“It’s not just people out here with axes, chopping trees down. We have hydrologists out here, fishery biologists, forest timber experts, probably some other people.”
And with Southeast Alaska’s legacy of clear-cut logging, it’s not just this creek that needs the help. Sanderson says there are plenty of places that once hosted robust fish populations.
“There’s definitely job security in this.”
And Sanderson hopes that with some work, and time, the fish will come back.
Reporting in Ketchikan, I’m Raegan Miller.
ASMI Angela Denning CoastAlaska
Governor Dunleavy in June announced budget vetoes that equal over $763 million dollars (WEB: $763,329,800). That included a $5 million dollar cut for ASMI (AZZ-me), the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
ASMI is a state agency with a mission to increase the economic value of Alaska seafood and create a demand for it.
Jeff Turner, Spokesperson for the Governor said in an email that ASMI received $7 million in federal COVID relief funds and has quote: “a substantial amount of program revenue available to carry into the next fiscal year.”
That leftover amount is $3.1 million.
ASMI’s funding went through several versions leading up to the veto. The Governor had included 28-and-a-half million ($28.5 million) for the institute in his initial budget proposal last December. The House Finance Committee cut that by $7 million. Then the Senate Finance Committee put back $5 million, which was ultimately approved by the Conference Committee made up of both bodies. However, the Governor ended up vetoing that amount.
Turner wrote quote: “After a thorough review of the agency’s funding, it was determined that the $5 million wasn’t needed this fiscal year for ASMI to promote and advertise Alaska seafood.” He says, “all the funds that were vetoed from the FY23 budget will be deposited in the state’s rainy day fund, the Constitutional Budget Reserve account.”
ASMI staff did not want to comment on the funding.
The Alaska Legislature could override the Governor’s vetoes but it takes 45 votes. Since Dunleavy has been in office, there has not been enough support for overrides.