More salmon flown to villages along the Yukon River

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 8:09 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Everts Air has delivered a second round of salmon to villages along the Yukon River in less than week.

“We’re running just over 13,000 pounds to Emmonak,” said Don Graves, Everts Anchorage operations manager, just before the cargo flight left Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. “There’s another equal amount going up to Fairbanks for distribution.”

Exceptionally poor salmon returns, especially of chum salmon, have impacted the region. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Commercial Fisheries said in a July 23 release that the preseason projection for chum did not meet the 300,000 limit of salmon needed to allow subsistence fishing, according to the Fall Chum Salmon Management Plan. The department made a limited subsistence opening for pink, sockeye and silver salmon along the Yukon River.

The department stated this year’s fall run for chum salmon was “anticipated to be critically low.” That significantly impacts communities along the Yukon River because data from Fish and Game shows that more than 70% of the area’s subsistence salmon harvest from 1994-2016 has been made up of chum salmon.

In late July, the Association of Village Council Presidents announced a plan with the Tanana Chiefs Council and the nonprofit SeaShare to distribute 25,000 pounds of fish to communities along the Yukon affected by the dismal salmon returns.

“Half the fish will go to the villages on the Lower Yukon River,” the release stated. “Sea Share is a nonprofit whose mission is to engage the seafood industry in a collective effort to improve nutrition for the people served by food banks and feeding centers.”

In its release, the association said the Yukon River was experiencing an “unprecedented situation” with salmon this year.

“Throughout the whole river, including within the AVCP region, there has been no opportunity for subsistence users to catch salmon to put away for the winter,” the release states.

The state of Alaska helped coordinate salmon deliveries along with the Association of Village Council Presidents and Tanana Chiefs Conference. Charters shipped about 10,900 pounds of chum and chinook salmon to Yukon River communities on Aug. 5, after an initial shipment to the village of Emmonak to reach the total of 25,000 pounds. Another 12,500 pounds of chum from Prince William Sound was delivered on Tuesday, according to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office.

As part of this process, Dunleavy authorized $75,000 from Fish and Game to pay for the additional chum salmon for Emmonak and communities along the Yukon River.

Other organizations that came together to help deliver the fish were Lynden Transport, Northern Air Cargo and Alaska Airlines.

“We are grateful to Governor Dunleavy and all involved for the donation of salmon to the communities on the Lower Yukon River in a time of need,” said Association of Village Council Presidents CEO Vivian Korthuis in a Tuesday press release from the governor’s office. “Again, the donation will not fill the freezers up, but the salmon is very appreciated. We are grateful and the acknowledge teamwork it took to get the salmon from where they were caught, transported, delivered and distributed to the families along the Lower Yukon River. Quyana on behalf of the region.”

Aides to the governor said the state purchased the latest salmon from Copper River Seafoods at a discounted price.

“He’s seen that firsthand by his kids growing up in rural Alaska,” said Rex Rock,Jr., the governor’s rural policy advisor. “It just means something to us when we’re able to catch it ourselves.”

While Everts Air prepared to deliver more salmon to those along the Yukon River, a third relief flight is already being planned.

“This is what we do. We reach out and try to help,” Graves said. “It’s expensive. But, it’s the right thing to do for people in need.”

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