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Fish Lift Helps Desperate Interior Villages with No Salmon Run


11,000 pounds of Chum and King Salmon were airlifted Thursday, August 5 to Yukon River villages, where fishing has been shut down all season. The fish were donated by processors in the Bristol Bay region, where there is a bountiful run. Both the Chum and King salmon runs in the Yukon River drainage have disappeared, leaving families desperate. Tanana Chiefs Conference coordinated the freighting of the fish with the governor's office and Everts Air Cargo.

This year, without fishing, our tribal members are really shocked and they're grieving.

Amber Vaska, Tanana Chiefs Conference’s Executive Director of Tribal Government and Client Services, says the poor run of both Chum and King salmon has hit the people the organization serves in a spiritual way.

Salmon is more than just providing food to help families get through the winter. It's really the way for families to pass down traditions that have been passed down for thousands of years. It's a time for families to go to fish camp and truly connect with nature again. And so, it's really healthy for both the mind, body and soul.

Credit Robyne / KUAC
Amber Vaska, left, joins Dewey K’koleyo Hoffman, and P.J. Simon as Terry Cadzow begins the loading of fish onto a charter plane with a prayer. TCC staff members, representatives of the governor's office and Everts Air Cargo crew join them.

Vaska has been keeping tabs on the poor fish run on the Yukon, and spoke at the Fairbanks Airport Thursday morning, along with P.J. Simon, TCC’s president.

Our villages on the Yukon River, they’ve fished for thousands of years, and they have no fish. Streams are empty. No Chum salmon, no summer Chum, no fall Chum.

Simon stood in front of an Everts Air freight plane set to to ship more than 10,900 pounds of chum and chinook to Tanana, Rampart, Stevens Village, Beaver, Birch Creek, Circle, Chalkyitsik, Minto, and Nenana. The salmon were donated by six seafood processors in Bristol Bay, organized by the non-profit organization, SeaShare.

To respond to the salmon crisis, the governor’s office authorized $75,000 from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to pay for part of Everts Air’s costs. Kenneth Long, director of Ground Services, says the rest is a contribution.

Credit Robyne / KUAC
Dewey K’koleyo Hoffman, traditional singer, honors the "fish lift" with a sad song from his ancestral village of Kokrines, noting the grief people on the Yukon River are feeling this year without a chance to fish for salmon.

Some of it will be paid, but we have donated quite a bit this year in the, in the moving of the fish, we moved 12,500 pounds of fish to Emmonak, out of Anchorage. Uh, we donated all the transportation to that. Um, we have donated some of the transportation for this also.

Before the fish were loaded into the plane, Terry Cadzow blessed it with a Christian prayer, and Dewey K’koleyo Hoffman honored the salmon scarcity with a sad song from the village of Kokrines.

TCC President P.J. Simon thanked Lt. Governor Kevin Meyer, who attended the airlift.

To get the message out there that climate change is affecting the way we live in the villages and that thank the governor's office for recognizing what climate change does with the food insecurity.

Rex Rock, the governor’s new rural advisor, said there were 25,000 more pounds of Bristol Bay salmon that could be distributed, but he didn’t agree with what may have caused the scarcity on the Yukon.

The climate change that you had addressed? We don't know if that's the whole thing. We think that there might be some others that contribute to this, which governor's office is trying to figure out.

Simon says the villages are anticipating changes in future years.

Looking at all the fishing in the ocean, genetic testing, the glut of salmon released into the oceans that may compete with our wild stock, climate change, all of the smoltification processes, stratification. It's so complicated, but I'm glad to hear the governor's looking at it. Tanana Chiefs would be glad to work with the state of Alaska. We want the salmon to come back Rex.

The partners hope to send more salmon charters in the near future.