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Dozens Voice Concerns About Declining Salmon Runs

October 19, 2011|By Christine Kim | Channel 2 News

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — They are on the decline, and no one knows really why.

Salmon returns to western Alaska continue to decrease, and that trend is leading to severe restrictions on commercial and subsistence fisheries. The impact of all this was the topic of a special legislative hearing Wednesday Afternoon.

Before the House Special Committee on Fisheries at the Dena’ina Center are lingering questions that many have been asking for the past 10 years.

Why are the salmon declining and how do you sustain and increase the fishery?

The Department of Fish and Game said they’re trying to find out.

“I wish we could get more clarity to people that live on the river and survive off that stock,” said Jeff Regnart, Director of Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Commercial Fisheries. “A lot of what we see is what we think is being driven by marine environment… That's really one of the last things left when you use the process of elimination. That’s definitely one of the things we would love to find more information about, but it’s difficult to garner information on the environment.”

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The Arctic Yukon Kuskokwim region has seen a continual decrease in its salmon runs. There are four stocks of concern, including Chum and Chinook salmon in Norton Sound, and Chinook salmon in the Yukon River.

“More alarming than the declines themselves is the fact that as we embark on research ventures we've realized there are massive knowledge gaps, and it will take some time to have real answers to fully explain the declines,” said Karen Gillis, Executive Director of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association.

But time is something that those living in the AYK area said they don't have.

“It's not easy living out there,” said Orville Huntington, a commercial fisherman in the area. “I'm one of the few commercial fishermen who let my commercial license sunset, because I didn’t see the sense in it anymore.”

Harvest restrictions are creating hardships for communities in the region that relied heavily on commercial and subsistence fishing.

“It just worries me,” said Fred Alexie, a subsistence fisherman. “This summer, we had 5-day closures right at the peak of the run. Two closures, 5 days. And all my years of fishing in the Yukon, I’ve never seen it that bad.”

Others agree, if it's to prevent the loss of salmon, there should be more conservation methods put in place. The committee listened to various concerns and asked questions throughout the hearing about what is being done by Fish and Game.

“They're trying to explain what they are doing and a lot of people have not known what Fish and Game has been doing, you know, and they're trying to explain that they're doing a lot,” said Representative Steve Thompson, Chair of the House Fisheries Committee. “They just don’t have the answers yet, but they are continuing to figure out why the fish are declining.”

“You can only do so much research and at some time, you got to make a determination that there’s something wrong with the research,” said Representative Alan Austerman. “I guess I’m just as frustrated as some of the people that testified today.”

The public can submit comments on this topic to jane_pierson@legis.state.ak.us

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