Eastern Aleutian Salmon Fishery Debate moves to Alaska Senate
April 26, 2023
Western Alaska chum versus Eastern Aleutian sockeye: that’s how many people are framing an Alaska Senate bill that aims to temporarily close Area M, a fishery off the Alaska Peninsula and eastern Aleutian Islands.
“The closure of this fishery essentially seeks to value the lives of some Alaskans over others,” said Charlotte Levy. “These are under-60-foot small boat fleets. These are subsistence users.”
By Theo Greenly, KUCB
Alaska Department Of Fish And Game
Area M encompasses parts of the Alaska Peninsula and the eastern Aleutian Islands, including the communities of Sand Point, Cold Bay, and King Cove. SB 128 supporters say Area M’s commercial fleet intercepts chum and chinook salmon, contributing to dismal returns to Bristol Bay and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Critics say the bill unfairly targets other fishing communities with restrictions that won’t solve the problem.
The Senate Judiciary Committee met Friday to hear testimony on SB 128, a bill that would close June commercial salmon fishing in the area.
Supporters of the bill say Area M’s commercial fleet intercepts chum and chinook salmon, contributing to dismal returns to Bristol Bay and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Critics say the bill unfairly targets other fishing communities with restrictions that won’t solve the problem.
Salmon runs to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta have been so low in recent years that entire villages are struggling to catch enough fish.
Meanwhile, commercial harvests in Area M have broken records, leading some policymakers to call for restrictions. They say a temporary closure would give returning salmon a window to pass through the area and return to the delta.
Democratic Sen. Donny Olson of Golovin sponsored SB 128 after the Alaska Board of Fisheries, which normally regulates state fisheries, voted down a proposition in February that would have limited Area M fishing.
Research indicates that warming oceans are the main culprit for low chum runs and that Area M only accounts for about 5% of the chum headed to Western Alaska rivers.
Still, those in favor of the bill say the situation has become so dire that that 5% could make a huge difference.
An Olson staffer, Almeria Alcantra, told the committee that temporarily closing Area M would give chum and chinook salmon a better chance of returning to their spawning grounds and stave off ecological collapse.
“This collapse has led to fishery closures along the rivers and their tributaries for all fishing types, which has had a severe impact to the subsistence and personal use harvests that residents rely on for their cultural, financial, and physical wellbeing,” said Alcantra.
But support during the committee meeting was mixed. While dozens of people spoke out in favor of the bill, even more spoke against it.
Charlotte Levy is the natural resources assistant director for the Aleutians East Borough, which is at the center of Area M. She told the committee the bill would unfairly hurt local fishermen in her region’s small fishing communities.
“The closure of this fishery essentially seeks to value the lives of some Alaskans over others,” said Levy. “These are under-60-foot small boat fleets. These are subsistence users.”
SB 128 is currently in committee with the Alaska Senate. If approved, the bill would still need to find support in the House.
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