AFN calls for rural priority for subsistence fishing

Delegates to the annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) in Anchorage are urging 

Congress to permanently protect the right of Alaska Native people to engage in subsistence fishing in 

the state’s navigable waters. 

At its board meeting on Monday, AFN asked Congress to revisit and strengthen subsistence management protections in the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) to assure the continuation of traditional hunting, fishing and gathering practices, “including the harvesting and sharing of fish, game, and other resources and the ceremonies that accompany these practices, which are essential to the social, cultural, spiritual and economic wellbeing and survival of Alaska Native people.” 

The resolution notes that Alaska Native people have relied on fishing to sustain customary and traditional ways of life for centuries, and that fishing remains an essential subsistence practice to this day. The resolution also notes that these rights were among the commitments that Congress made to Alaska Native people when it enacted Title VIII of ANILCA. 

The Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers that flow from the Bering Sea through Interior Alaska have seen such a dramatic decline in salmon returns that they have been closed to subsistence fishing for two years. A number of people living in communities along these rivers testified at the October meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC), pleading for some immediate steps to lower the number of salmon that commercial fishermen trawling for pollock in the Bering Sea can take legally as bycatch. The council instead approved for consideration, and further analysis by its staff, caps ranging from 200,000 chum salmon to as many 550,000 chum that the trawlers could legally harvest incidentally to the pollock.   


The council now has until December of 2024 to make a final decision. 

Residents of a number of these villages – who were denied subsistence fishing – get some benefit through the Community Development Quota groups, which are allocated a percentage of the allowable groundfish and crab allowable commercial catch each year, with earnings benefitting 65 Western Alaska Communities.  

Over the past 12 years the chum bycatch in the commercial trawl fisheries has fluctuated from a low of 22,172 chum in 2011, to a high of 545,901 in 2021. Federal and state fisheries biologists have attributed much of the decline of chum salmon returning to these rivers to climate change.