The plight of Kodiak’s Native Alaska villages and its fishermen was front and center during daylong public testimony at the Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting Sunday.
“Decisions made here today … will hurt the future of our children and the future of our village,” said Emil Christiansen of Old Harbor, one of 183 people who signed up to speak.
Sunday was the second day of a four-day meeting that will decide if some of Kodiak’s fisheries regulations will change. During the public testimony section of the meeting, several people at a time were called to sit in front of the board and present their view of the proposals.
During the first half of the testimony, most people spoke against 10 of the salmon proposals submitted by Chignik and Cook Inlet fishermen that aim to change the allocation of salmon and times of fishing openings in specific Kodiak areas.
With the current grim realities of village life cited by many attendees, including loss of population, school closings and a lack of job opportunities, previously thriving Native villages are struggling to survive and the proposed salmon changes could worsen their situations, they said.
“Decreasing our fishing time will not only decrease our annual income, it will also decrease the value of our limited entry permits,” said Janissa Johnson, a member of Native regional corporation Koniag, Inc. board of directors. She grew up in Larsen Bay and spends her summers there fishing to support her family of five and her one living parent after her father died unexpectedly.
She said that with a smaller harvest from less fishing time, the local cannery also will decrease production.
For Larsen Bay, the effects would mean fewer fish taxes for the community, fewer dollars spent on the local airline industry, a continued decline in population and reduction in employment opportunities, she said.
Natasha Hayden, director of Lands and Natural Resources of the Native Village of Afognak, also voiced her opposition to the salmon proposals, citing the decreasing participation of Native Alaskans in the commercial salmon industry.
The “unintended consequences of these actions that you guys are faced with … are very wide and difficult to measure,” Hayden said. “ But, us as Alaskans, if you hurt one you hurt all of us.”
Hayden also commented on the plight of Chignik communities who also depend on salmon, primarily sockeye, who for the second year in a row have had low salmon runs. Chignik did not have a single opener in 2018.
“I understand the suffering that the people of Chignik are experiencing in these times of low returns,” Hayden said. “We can’t thrive if our brothers and sisters down in the gulf are suffering.”
Jamie Ross, a Homer resident who fishes in different areas around the state, was one of the few Chignik voices in the crowd of Kodiak supporters.
“While (Kodiak fishermen) were having some of their best monetary seasons, four out of the six years the Cape Igvak fishery wasn’t even open,” Ross said of the commercial salmon seine fleet.
Cape Igvak is a contentious area as it has seen low runs for the past several years and sits between the Kodiak, Chignik and Cook Inlet management areas.
Ross said sockeye is the bread and butter for Chignik fishermen.
In Cape Igvak, “they had no fishery in 2018, and the forecast for next year is completely abysmal. If Chignik is going to have a first run harvest at all in the next several years, they are going to need every sockeye,” Ross said. “They need some help from you folks.”
Despite low Chignik salmon numbers, many of the people who testified on Sunday said Kodiak fishermen do not target Cook Inlet or Chignik- bound sockeye, nor can they help which fish are in the areas they fish. In addition, many critics of the 10 salmon proposals said that according to management plans, if the Chignik fishermen do not fish in Cape Igvak, neither do the Kodiak fishermen.
To justify the salmon proposals, many of the proposal authors cited a study conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that found a percentage of Cook Inlet salmon were caught in Kodiak during certain months from 2014 to 2016.
During the testimony, critics of these proposals said three years of a study in only certain areas is not enough to find a pattern.
“In the 47 years I’ve run a boat, tides and wind have a big difference on where the fish end up,” Christiansen said.
Johnson referred to her experience as a setnetter to illustrate fishermen’s lack of control on where fish travel.
“As setnetters, when we target salmon destined for the Karluk River, we are essentially slapping our gear out in the hopes that fish numbers, wind, temperature and ocean movements are all in our favor,” she said. The Karluk River is located in the southwest part of the island, near Larsen Bay.
Tom Panamaroff, the regional and executive affairs executive for Koniag, said commercial salmon fishing has been the cornerstone of Native Alaska villages, but because of the closures and lower quotas in some of Kodiak’s fisheries and the difficulty entering them, the proposals would only add to the hardships of life in the villages.
“Regardless of your decision, I’m going to make the same amount of money after Tuesday — some of my friends back there are not,” Panamaroff said, referring to the crowd of fishermen sitting behind him. “Whatever you are going to decide, there will be people who are harmed if you make the wrong decision.”