State and federal wildlife officials this week seized 21 nets and 1,100 pounds of salmon from subsistence fishermen in Southwest Alaska, Alaska State Troopers say.
The seizures, on Wednesday, come during a subsistence fishing closure on the Lower Kuskokwim River. Low salmon runs there have again hammered cash-poor village residents who rely on salmon as a traditional food source. At least some of the fishermen may have been on the river in an act of civil disobedience.
Two communities -- Tuntutuliak and Akiak -- issued resolutions or statements encouraging residents to fish despite the government ban that began earlier this month, according to a troopers spokesman.
State and federal wildlife officers issued 33 citations in all. The offense is a criminal misdemeanor, said trooper spokesman Tim DeSpain.
The Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents plans to meet next week and ask the state to issue a disaster declaration in the region.
"They're getting depressed and it's getting to be a crisis situation, because they're not going to have any food," said Myron Naneng, AVCP president, who was visiting the Kuskokwim River village of Akiachak Thursday.
"Salmon is 'neqa' in Yup'ik. In literal translation, in Yup'ik, (it) means food," Naneng said.
Bethel-based research revealed a weak, late run for king salmon along the Kuskokwim River this year, said John Linderman, Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokim region supervisor for the state Commercial Fisheries Division.
The state began rolling subsistence-fishing closures on June 10, starting with communities along the mouth of the river. The 12-day closures are meant to gradually follow the fish as they return to spawning grounds upriver.
A three-day opening for subsistence fishing of sockeye and chum salmon begins at the mouth of the river Friday morning. Net sizes will still be restricted to prevent fishermen from targeting king salmon, Linderman said.
Naneng said the subsistence opening won't reach Akiachak until next week -- a small relief now that the fishing ban has barred fishermen from the river for half of June.
"When they open on Monday, the people whose nets were confiscated may not have an opportunity to fish at all," he said.
Fish and Game says it's unclear whether confiscated nets would be legal gear for the upcoming opening.
DeSpain said troopers seized salmon from fishermen's nets but not from village fish racks.
The seized salmon were given to Lower Kuskokwim-area charities, he said.