Saturday, October 03, 2009

NY Times: Scarcity of King Salmon Hurt Alaskan Fishermen

The New York Times reports on how a downturn in Alaskan King salmon is severely affecting fishers. The cause is suspected to be changes in ocean temperatures and/or currents, and these may be caused by global warming (but they may also be natural). Additionally, collateral damage from commercial fishing boats, which use very large nets, may also contribute. Whatever the cause, this has implications for the livelihood of the fishers and the management of the fishery - salmon populations elsewhere in the US are declining.

“We’re a one-resource economy down here,” said Jack Schultheis, the company’s general manager. “We don’t have the oil fields or timber or anything else to work on. This is all we’ve got.”

In the 1980s and early 1990s, commercial fishermen on the lower river made an average of $8,000 to $12,000 in gross earnings, sometimes more. Since 2000, that number has been closer to $4,000, and this year, it dropped to just over $2,000.

“You gotta try to find some other work,” said Paul Andrews, a commercial fisherman in Emmonak. “It’s really, really hard out here.”

Like many on the Yukon delta, Mr. Andrews relies on income from fishing to sustain a subsistence lifestyle that also includes hunting for moose, seals and migratory birds.

Arthur Heckman, who manages a small store in the village of Pilot Station, says more and more people are asking him for credit. “Some days I have people call me up and say, ‘I just want a box of crackers,’ or ‘I just want to buy some Pampers,’ ” he said.

The cost of living in remote villages along the river is high, and many residents rely on a mix of part-time work and government aid. Most also rely on fish.

This post is also tagged as related to Indigenous peoples' rights. Many Alaskans have Alaska Native ancestry. The article doesn't say, but it's likely that some of the affected fishers are Alaska Natives.

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