Skip to main Content
Rural Alaska

Mushers in Yukon River region struggle to feed dogs after poor salmon runs

  • Author: Associated Press
  • Updated: September 30, 2020
  • Published September 30, 2020

BETHEL — Owners of sled dogs in Alaska’s Yukon River region have had difficulty feeding the animals since the state halted subsistence fishing because of paltry salmon runs.

The low number of king and chum salmon in state waters compelled the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to stop fishermen from harvesting the main source of food for the sled dogs, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported.

Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Director Stephanie Quinn-Davidson said communities in the region normally rely on both types of fish, but have turned to more chum salmon over the years as king salmon runs dwindled.

The lack of fall chum salmon halted fishing entirely, she said.

“We have a situation where subsistence harvests are probably the lowest they’ve been in two decades,” Quinn-Davidson said.

Quinn-Davidson sought help for the mushers and their dogs in a Twitter post earlier this month.

“I’ve been really surprised at the response that we’ve gotten,” she said. “I don’t even know how many times now I’ve had professional-identified mushers reach out to me and say, we want to help you, you know, we’ll put you in touch with the dog food companies that we use.”

One dog food company has organized a method of shipping dog food to the area’s mushers and Quinn-Davidson hopes for more.

Gerald Alexander, a musher in Fort Yukon, said he is now feeding his dogs mostly dry food, which is expensive to ship to Alaska communities off the road system.

“It costs so much for a bag of Friskies,” Alexander said. “Actually 32 pounds for $60 dollars a bag.”

Musher Pat Moore said he keeps 20 dogs requiring about 4,000 salmon, even while mixing up their diet with kibble and red meat.

Moore is one of about nine mushers in the Yukon River village of Tanana. He has enough food to last through December, but soon he and other mushers will have to make tough choices about the futures of their dogs, he said.

“After this is all over, it won’t be nine,” Moore said.