In an effort to get first-hand information and hear directly from the Alaskans impacted, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich will be in Bethel next Monday where he is hosting a fishery roundtable with community leaders and fishery managers.
Begich has also sent a letters to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the Senate Appropriations Committee requesting increased funding for the Alaska Subsistence Management Program to increase research on and management of the Chinook salmon fishery along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers. The actions come as the fisheries in the area are largely closed, and biologists are predicting 2012 will be one of the worst Chinook runs on record. In the two letters, Begich is asking for additional funding allocations now as well as budget increases for Fiscal Year 2013 and 2014.
"People along the rivers are resorting to extreme measures and harvesting fish, despite closures by the state and federal authorities; because they are afraid they will not have enough food to last through the winter," Begich says in his letter.
Begich points out in his letter than he doesn't believe the Department of Interior (DOI) can meet the goals of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act or implement the recommendations of DOI's review of the Subsistence Program without increased funding. Better management of this fishery requires new investment in key management tools including: research, data collection, fish weir maintenance, biologists, aerial surveys, genetic sampling for stock compositions and bolstering the Bethel test fishery, Begich says.
"I understand the Department's budget is stretched very thin this year, but due to the dire circumstances subsistence users face right now, I urge you to look for ways to transfer additional dollars to research on the suitability of an additional sonar in order to more accurately track the numbers of salmon in the Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers," Begich said.
On Monday, Begich will host the fishery roundtable from 8:45 -- 10 am at the Yuut Elitnaurviat Peoples Learning Center in Bethel with invited speakers to include local leaders and state and federal fishery managers. Begich will also travel to Quinhagak with a team of federal agency representatives to highlight local efforts to build sustainable community infrastructure. He will also tour the Donlin Creek Mine site.