Issues arise while adviser on trip

Kyle Hopkins
ERIK HILL /Anchorage Daily News

Gov. Sarah Palin's rural adviser, John Moller, took a boat trip out of cell phone range recently to fish with his family. Here's what he missed:

On Friday, a group of fishermen from the Lower Yukon River village of Marshall reportedly took to their boats for an illegal subsistence fishing trip meant to protest this season's tight restrictions on catching king salmon.

Meantime, a villager in Emmonak demanded an apology from Palin's team when the governor's office attributed a remark to him that many people in his village had already met their subsistence needs. The dust-up appeared to have blown over by Thursday night, with Moller e-mailing an apology and the villager offering his thanks.

The Daily News talked with Moller on Wednesday night, the day before he was scheduled to return to work, and two days before Palin made a surprise announcement that she was resigning. He talked about why some rivers are getting king salmon and some aren't, if the state administration can build bridges with rural subsistence fishermen, and the debate over regulating the number of king salmon caught by the Bering Sea pollock fleet.

As for the protest, Moller said he hadn't been briefed on it and planned to call back Thursday after returning to work. He couldn't be reached for a follow-up interview by press time.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

Q. Do you have any message for other villages? People who saw what Marshall did and might be tempted to do the same -- regardless of what the restrictions are, go out and get their king salmon?

A. What I will say is that when I was in Emmonak and there was a meeting down there, there was no talk, with the general public that is, that (they) had any intentions of going out there and breaking the -- the, you know -- the management that currently is in place. That's what I heard from Emmonak.

Obviously, I can't encourage it. They put these management strategies in place for a reason ... and I'm not one to question that.

Q. The governor had, on her Twitter account, written these reports about good news from the Yukon. She wrote that you'd been talking to someone with CNN out there and had good news to report, including that maybe 50 percent of the people in Emmonak had gotten their subsistence goals met so far. Where did that information come from?

A. A couple of people mentioned at the subsistence, the federal subsistence board meeting, the public meeting there in Emmonak, that if I recall it was 50 or more percent have gotten it. Gotten their subsistence needs. And then many, many more people I talked to over the course of a couple days there had either gotten their subsistence ... or were partially there in terms of getting what they traditionally use.

Q. The people concerned about the Yukon king run have been concerned for a long time. Those passions have not really cooled. Why do you think there's been that continued tension?

A. Well, one of the catalysts to the emotions is, many people don't believe that the North Pacific council motion went far enough.

In other words, we're being asked to conserve for the health of this resource -- and they don't feel that the council motion was doing that in terms of other sectors of the industry.

(Note: The North Pacific Fishery Management Council oversees the Bering Sea pollock industry, which many Yukon River fishermen blame for dwindling king stocks. The council voted to limit how many salmon the industry can waste, though the cap isn't as strict as many villages requested.)

Q. Do you think the council motion went far enough?

A. What I think is, and I've said this before, is this is the first time they've gone anywhere with it. There's been no limit on it in the past. So that in itself is a milestone. It's been a long time in the works. And there are some tools in the motion ... that have the opportunity to have a significant savings with the king salmon.

Whether or not it comes to fruitation won't be known until it's implemented.

Q. Is there any conventional wisdom why we're hearing about lousy king runs all over the state except the Kuskokwim River? When you talk to people on the Kuskokwim they say they're doing well. ... Why is that?

A. There's a much bigger picture here than the trawlers and the Bering Sea. Are the trawlers part of it? Sure. Is global warming part of it? Probably. There's a much bigger issue out there. And I'm just listening. I'm relaying to you what some (Yukon River) elders told me, and I tend to agree with them that there's factors out there that we don't even have a clue about that is affecting the chinook salmon. We had some disease in some of the animals, some of the fish, and that contributes to some of it. But even the elders say we got to put some controls on, where we can put controls on it, but there's a bigger picture out there.

Go to The Village, the ADN's blog about rural Alaska, for more of the interview with John Moller: Twitter updates: Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334.

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