Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) Chief Executive Officer Vivian Korthuis called for immediate action on behalf of tribes in the Y-K Delta to find solutions for the salmon shortage in our region. On June 12th, Korthuis provided the following testimony at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Sitka, Alaska.
Testimony of Vivian Korthuis:
Madam Chair and members of the Advisory Panel,
My name is Vivian Korthuis, and I am the Chief Executive Officer for the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP). I will be speaking to agenda item D1, Salmon reports. Our tribal members are suffering from an unprecedented salmon crash and our tribes are demanding immediate action from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. I will briefly share three recommendations for finding solutions to this crisis.
AVCP is the largest tribal consortium in the Nation, with 56 federally recognized tribes as members. We are in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta of Western Alaska. There are 48 villages spread along the Yukon River, Kuskokwim River, and Bering Sea Coast, making us an Arctic region. The Y-K Delta has approximately 27,000 residents, who are primarily Yup’ik, Cup’ik, and Athabascan. Subsistence is our Way of Life. 70% of households in the Y-K Delta harvest game, and 98% harvest fish. Salmon is the main fish our families rely on to feed us throughout the winter.
The reports provided to you and your experts from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game have shown that Western Alaska Chinook salmon runs in 2020 and 2021 are the lowest they’ve been in 30 years. 2022 projects the same dismal forecast. This should cause alarm bells to be going off all over the place. What your reports don’t show are the families in Western Alaska who are worrying about putting away enough fish to feed their children throughout the winter and the parents and grandparents who are unable to pass their way of life down to their children and grandchildren.
It’s ironic because salmon donations, the Sea Share program, and fishery disaster funds are like “band-aids” attempting to fix a much more harmful situation. Although these donations are extremely needed and appreciated, they are not the solutions we are seeking for the long run. Our tribes want solutions – not temporary measures. AVCP offers three recommendations for the Council to implement immediately:
- Engage with Tribes on a government-to-government basis.
- Tribes deserve an equal voice in the decision-making processes of this body. Currently, the only voices being represented and listened to are those of the State of Alaska and industry.
- Tribes need to be represented on all Council committees as well.
- Use Indigenous Knowledge in decision making.
- We have managed our resources, including salmon, successfully for thousands of years.
- There is a wealth of knowledge passed down by our elders to today’s subsistence fishers – over thousands of years – that can be shared with your researchers as we look for solutions to the current salmon crash.
- Western science alone has not provided solutions. We need to meaningfully seek and use Indigenous Knowledge when making decisions, and we will begin to find solutions that work.
- Reduce Bycatch now.
- We cannot continue to wait for run reconstructions and bycatch impact analyses to be completed before this body takes action to reduce the thousands of salmon taken as bycatch each season.
- It is deeply unfair for those who rely on fishing the most to feed our families, and whose use has the least amount of impact on declining stocks, to be subjected to the strictest restrictions in the name of conservation.
- Meanwhile, the Council waits for more studies before taking action to reduce bycatch directly.
- This isn’t right. The Council should take every action available at your disposal to reduce bycatch immediately.
In conclusion, I speak to you today with a high sense of urgency because we are talking about protecting our Way of Life. We don’t want to have to tell our grandchildren or great-grandchildren “I remember when there used to be salmon here.” 40 years ago, I was a first-year undergraduate student standing alongside the Connecticut River trying to understand how the Connecticut River had 200 prior years of no salmon running up to it’s headwaters. I was shocked to say the least. To me, the best management practice that this body should prioritize is not letting 1,982 miles of the Yukon River, which is the 3rd largest river in the nation’s, salmon die. It’s shocking. This, to me, is unacceptable to any American. It is time for the Council to fulfill its obligation to balance conservation, economic, and social concerns with the intent of managing sustainable fisheries for the greatest benefit to the Nation – not just to the greatest benefit of industry.