Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Civil disobedience on the Yukon; Marshall fishermen ignore closure


June 29, 2009 at 12:33PM AKST

In an act of civil disobedience, fishermen in six boats left the village of Marshall on Friday to go subsistence fishing on the Yukon River, though fishing was closed, said one of the protestors.

The group caught 100 king salmon in their gillnets.

State and federal authorities have severely restricted king salmon on the Yukon this summer in an effort to help the struggling run recover.

Villagers along the lower Yukon say they’re suffering.

Commercial fishing for kings hasn’t been allowed, and subsistence fishing has been limited to two 18-hour openings each week.

King salmon has long been a staple food along the Yukon. Residents dry or freeze the fish to eat year round. Also, commercial fishing for kings usually provides one of the few opportunities for villagers to make money.

This summer’s restrictions are worrying residents who don’t have enough king salmon to last the year, said Nick Andrew Jr., a member of the Ohagamuit tribal government, based in Marshall.

Andrew said he and five others went fishing late Friday night, when subsistence fishing was closed. They caught three totes of kings about 10 miles upriver from Marshall, a village of about 400.

“It’s now June 29,” Andrew said. “Usually by this date everyone’s subsistence king salmon needs are met and on the drying racks and in the freezers and salted.

“But as we speak only 20 percent of the village’s king salmon needs have been met. It’s a bad situation."

The fishermen saw no wildlife troopers and weren’t cited, he said.

They returned to Marshall and quickly cut the fish for drying and freezing. Then they delivered it to widows, elders and disabled residents, he said.

One elderly woman cried when her portion was delivered, he said.

Andrew said the protest fishing was sanctioned by the Ohagamuit and Marshall tribal governments. Ohagamuit created the resolution and the Marshall council approved it.

Earlier this summer, Andrew, in a letter published by The Tundra Drums, said he and others would get their kings, even if it meant going to jail or getting a ticket.

“Our original intent was to protest,” he said. “We went out there all gung ho, ready to bear a grin and go out for a cause. The Lord provided us our fish and no law enforcement.”

Villages along the lower Yukon have had a long, hard winter that followed similar restrictions to king fishing last year, he said. Many Yukon fishermen blame the Bering Sea pollock fleet for inadvertently catching too many river-bound king salmon on the high seas.

Village governments have requested fishery disaster declarations. The state has said it can’t declare such a disaster. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke is considering a request.


Alex DeMarban can be reached at 907-348-2444 or 800-770-9830, ext. 444


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