OPINION: Empty freezers on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta

Our communities in rural Alaska have a way of life. It is so much bigger than just subsistence. It goes to the essence of our whole existence as people who live in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of western Alaska. We are salmon people. Salmon provides our physical, emotional and spiritual nourishment, which impacts every member of the communities in our region.

Alaska is facing a true crisis. Our way of life is up against people “making a living.” The overfishing of Area M (the Alaska Peninsula) has resulted in millions of salmon never making their way to the rivers and streams of the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region of our state.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta has approximately 27,000 residents, who are primarily Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Athabascan. Subsistence is our way of life. In our region, 70% of households harvest game and 98% harvest fish. Salmon is the main fish our families rely on to feed us.

Later this month, the Alaska State Board of Fisheries will be holding a regulatory meeting to discuss how to address this crisis. The question at hand: Will the state of Alaska turn its back on villages in Western Alaska and bow down to the commercial fishing industry, filling the industry’s pockets with cash, while tribal communities who depend on salmon for their very existence are left with empty fish houses, empty freezers, empty stomachs and empty hearts?

As the chief executive officer of the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP), I will be asking for support of Proposal 140. This adjustment to how and when commercial fishing occurs in Area M will reduce the impacts of overfishing, bycatch and salmon intercept. The proposal does not ban commercial fishing, it simply puts in place guardrails to protect what is good for all Alaskans. This proposal strikes a balance between various interests.

A change is needed. Under the current rules recently, commercial fishermen were allowed to catch virtually anything they desired in Area M while at the same time, families in Western Alaska were not allowed to subsistence fish in our rivers. Our villages are empty of salmon. Zero. The scale of the problem cannot be denied. By some counts in 2021, roughly 150,000 chum salmon swam up the Yukon River. In an average year, we would have seen that number exceed 1.7 million salmon.

On behalf of the people who have depended on salmon for generations, I ask state officials from the governor’s office on down to protect our way of life. Our tribes are great stewards of natural resources. I call upon the state to reexamine its rules and regulations and join in stewardship for the good of all.


Vivian Korthuis is the CEO of the Association of Village Council Presidents. AVCP is a regional nonprofit tribal consortium comprised of the 56 federally recognized tribes of the Y-K Delta. The geographic boundaries of AVCP extend from the Yukon River village of Russian Mission downstream to the Bering Sea coast, north up through Kotlik and south along the coastline to Platinum and then extending up the Kuskokwim River to Stony River, including Lime Village on the Stony River tributary. The area encompasses approximately 6.5 million acres, or 55,000 square miles, in western Alaska.

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