Fairbanks Daily News Miner: Federal funding to support Yukon-Kuskokwim salmon projects

The large $1.7 trillion omnibus bill approved by Congress last week contains a number of environmental measures that will benefit Alaska’s fisheries, including those in the Interior.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who secured some of the funding through her Congressionally Directed Spending requests, and U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola both applauded the inclusion of the items in the omnibus bill. The state will receive $2 million to monitor the salmon population in the Kuskokwim and Yukon River watersheds.

Tanana Chiefs Conference will receive $500,000 to address the large data gap regarding salmon populations on the Yukon River. TCC Chief and Chairman Brian Ridley said in a prepared statement the funding addresses a critical concern.

“For the past three years, the Yukon River salmon populations have suffered catastrophic declines, preventing our tribal communities from subsistence fishing which is essential to the overall health and wellbeing of our people,” Ridley said.

The $500,000 will be used for a sonar on the Middle Yukon, which “supports building tribal data, and develops a pathway for co-stewardship to ensure balanced management and harvest decisions for all Tribes and people that rely on the Yukon River to meet subsistence needs.”

Another $880,000 will go to the Intertribal Federal Subsistence Cooperative Management Program at the Kuskokwim River Watershed. The funding will help “research and respond to this unprecedented salmon crisis and the food security issues caused by our declined chinook, chum, and coho salmon,” said Kevin Whitworth, executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Murkowski secured $1.2 million for ecological monitoring in the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, which will help in the collection of environmental data which lends itself to better management of salmon populations in the Arctic, Yukon and Kuskokwim regions of Alaska.

The U.S. The Department of Commerce declared federal disasters for 14 Alaska fisheries in January, including the 2020 Kuskokwim River salmon fishery and the 2020 and 2021 Yukon River salmon fisheries.

Fisheries disasters relief

The omnibus bill also allocates $300 million in national fisheries disaster relief funding, which according to Murkowski’s news release will help commercial, recreational and subsistence harvesters impacted by fisheries stock crashes, including in Alaska.

The region saw sharp salmon population declines in both years, with the Yukon reporting the lowest salmon run on record in 2021. Because of the low population, Yukon Rivers families weren’t allowed to conduct subsistence fishing in 2021 and the commercial fishery was closed, something that repeated itself this summer and has had an impact on rural village residents’ food supply and running up their grocery bill.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries in August published a report noting that warming seas and poor diet were contributing factors to the salmon decline. The NOAA report also noted more needs to be done to reduce salmon bycatch in commercial fishers and that scientists are “working with the fishing industry to develop new tools to reduce salmon bycatch.”

A University of Alaska Fairbanks fisheries-related program also benefits from the new bill, receiving $1.75 million to conduct baseline marine fishery surveys and “supports projects for community-based monitoring of salmon and crab in the Yukon River and the Bering Sea.”

New legislation

The omnibus bill also includes the Fishery Resource Disasters Improvement Act, which Murkowski co-wrote to improve the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) fisheries disaster program.

According Murkowski’s release, the new act “specifies a timeline for action by NMFS, clarifies the declaration process, and expedites review and fund dispersal processes and … assistance eligibility for subsistence and recreational fishers.”

Another new piece of legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Dan Sullivan, includes the Alaska Salmon Research Task Force Act. The law will direct a NOAA task force to review gaps on “migration patterns and declining returns of Pacific salmon in Alaska to support sustainable management.”

Sullivan ultimately voted against the omnibus bill due to a lack of time to read the massive package, he said he supported much of the spending bill.

By:  Jack Barnwell
Source: Fairbanks Daily News Miner

Related Issues: Alaska's Fisheries