Delta Discovery: Senator Murkowski hosts Subsistence Listening Session

Senator Lisa Murkowskiheld a Listening Session to hear views and concerns regarding subsistence from local and regional community members. She hosted the meeting on April 2nd, 2013 at Yuut Elitnaurviat in Bethel under the direction of the Alaska Federation of Natives. The room was filled to capacity with people ready to testify. Moderating the event was Ana Hoffman who also gave the opening welcome.

The first to give testimony was Myron Naneng, President of the Association of Village Council Presidents. He spoke of the issue of the local Kuskokwim fishermen who were fined and brought to court for fishing during the closures last summer. He urged for the reduction of bycatch salmon in Area M and for fines to be imposed on every Chinook salmon caught as bycatch by the ocean fishing fleet. He iterated that the people (of the Yukon and Kuskokwim) bear the burden of conservation and that 74% of the Chinook salmon caught as bycatch were bound for western Alaska.

Tribal co-management of migratory birds, tribal water quality management, funding for a salmon intertribal fish commission, and tribal involvement in the management of fisheries, including a seat on the North Pacific Management Council is needed, said Naneng.

“We need people who live off these resources to be part of the management,” he said. “We hope this summer that none of our people will be cited for (fishing for) food,” he concluded.

Others spoke in favor of making the Community Development Quota (CDQ) allocations fairer and equal. Members of the Coastal Villages Region Fund (CVRF) villages wore red t-shirts and were interspersed amongst those attending the listening session, and they signified their support of increasing the CDQ allocation for CVRF which has inequalities compared to the other five CDQ groups. CVRF represents more people and villages than the smallest three of the six CDQ groups combined.

Mike Williams Sr. of Akiak, speaking during his turn said they reluctantly agreed to the 7-day fishing closure last summer. And then there was the additional 5-day closure, but some went ahead and fished because the elders asked them to. Many of the fishermen were cited and fish and nets were confiscated.

“It was a very emotional and tough time,” he said. “It was heartbreaking to see a fish war in our community.”

He agreed that tribes need to be involved in the management of the salmon and that tribal co-management should be honored.

The court trials for the 21 fishermen who were cited begins Monday, April 15th in Bethel.

“Our subsistence foods are our God-given gifts, our natural foods,” said elder Paul John of Toksook Bay speaking Yugtun. “So that is why we must take food when it is available. We have two laws – no to overtake and not to uqlaq, (waste or make a mess of the resources).” He also spoke that people should not nepliq (to argue or make noise) about food because it may be that sometime in the future those resources may disappear or not be available anymore. Many more spoke in favor of tribal involvement in decision-making regarding subsistence. Timothy Andrew who serves as the Director of Natural Resources for AVCP as part of his testimony presented statistics regarding subsistence.

“We have seen a precipitous drop in the utilization of wild subsistence foods in the recent years,” he said. “In the more recent years, we have seen our Chinook salmon decline to the point of subsistence closures on both the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers. Primarily the Yukon where there is an anticipated first pulse closure. We have seen the Mulchatna Caribou Herd decline from a high of 220,000 in 1996 to less than 30,000 currently with associated bag limit restrictions. So, what we would desire in subsistence (food security) management?” He submitted the following.

 •Tribal co-management of all of our food security resources to include inter-tribal fish commissions for both the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers.

 •True tribal co-management of our migratory birds. We harvest an estimated 111,000 migratory birds alone and gather over 60,000 eggs in the spring.

 •True co-management or management of our land mammals.

 •Explicit recognition of our customary and traditional tribal hunting and fishing rights as first peoples of this land.

 •The Amounts Necessary for Subsistence in the state management system does not suffice, or the all inclusive state law.

 •The “rural priority” provision of Title VIII of ANILCA does not suffice.

 •The current definition of “Indigenous Inhabitants” in the MBTPA does not suffice.

Testimony continued for over 2 hours with many speaking about issues covering but not limited to: economic development provided to the communities and youth through the CDQ program, protection of subsistence habitat, beaver-blocked salmon spawning areas, dismay at the elders ticketed for fishing during the closures, tribal rights, subsistence survival for the coming winter, and commercial fishing. Some were emotional when giving their testimonies.

A record of all the comments made during the subsistence listening session will be established as public testimony. Another hearing is scheduled to be held in the Ahtna region sometime in May.

Source: By Staff