Protesting US restrictions on the Yukon River, Alaskan subsistence fishers illegally caught 100 chinook salmon on June 26.
About 50 of those salmon would have been bound for Canadian spawning grounds, said Sandy Johnston, spokesman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Had the fish been allowed to spawn, they would have produced 150 adults, said Johnston.
“Any fish that’s taken that should have gone through to the spawning grounds will have an impact,” said Johnston.
Several years of low returns has put Alaskan villages into crisis.
Marshall, Alaska, where the protest catch took place, is one of those dozens of suffering villages. And last winter was particularly bad for its residents.
Reeling from a low salmon harvest, villagers found their food stocks at an all-time low.
Faced with high fuel prices and a brutal winter, many villagers were forced to choose between buying food or heating oil.
Under the Yukon River Salmon Agreement, Alaskan authorities were supposed to allow 45,000 Yukon River salmon into Canadian spawning grounds in 2008.
Despite heavy cutbacks on Alaska’s commercial salmon fishery, only 35,000 made it.
In an unprecedented move, Alaska’s subsistence fishers are now seeing their allowable harvest times cut in half.
Six vessels were involved in the illegal harvest and, in Marshall, the fish were delivered to widows, elders and disabled residents, fishers told the Seward Phoenix.
One elderly woman cried after her portion was delivered, reported the Phoenix.
“We, the native people along the entire Yukon River, face an uncertain future; our subsistence way of life is now in serious jeopardy,” wrote Marshall resident Nick P. Andrew Jr. in a June 22 letter to the Anchorage-based Tundra Drums newspaper.
On both sides of the border, the Alaskan pollock fishery is being blamed for the catastrophic collapse.
Every year, tens of thousands of Yukon River-bound chinook salmon are snared in the nets of the $1-billion-a-year fishery.
Over the last eight years, 450,000 chinook salmon have been killed by pollock nets.
“We, along the Yukon River, are casualties of an unjust system that protects big enterprise and a state government that is unsympathetic to the rural people of Alaska, primarily the native community,” wrote Andrew.
“Wanton waste is a crime along the river and the entire state. Yet bycatch of our precious subsistence and economic resource is allowed and unregulated in the high seas.”
Yukon First Nations, as in 2008, are being asked to cut their harvest by half by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“We won’t adhere to their rules and regulations, because it affects our inherent rights,” said Ruth Massie, chief of the Ta’an Kwach’an.
“Although, we will practise, as we always do, our conservation measures; you only take what you need.”
While sympathetic to the Alaskan’s plight, the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation “might not even fish this year,” said Chief Eddie Skookum.
Alaskan Wildlife Troopers are investigating the illegal harvest.
“If, in fact, a protest fishery occurred, I am very disappointed,” Col. Gary Folger, director of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers, said in a release.
Protesters could face fines of up to $5,000 and/or a year in jail. Fishing equipment may also be seized.
“Monitoring our natural resources is not an exact science. Whenever possible, we want to err on the side of sustaining our bounty for the future,” read Folger’s release.
“Our subsistence rights must, at all costs, never be compromised,” wrote Andrew.
Contact Tristin Hopper at