Pacific Salmon: Ecology and Management of Western Alaska’s Populations

People and Salmon of the Yukon and Kuskokwim Drainages and Norton Sound in Alaska: Fishery Harvests, Culture Change, and Local Knowledge Systems

Robert J. Wolfe and Joseph Spaeder


Abstract.—Salmon Oncorhynchus spp. is a staple food for the Native villages of the Yukon and Kuskokwim drainages and Norton Sound in Alaska. The economy of the area is characterized by the high production of wild foods for local use and low-per-capita monetary incomes. Traditional subsistence activities form the core of village economies. Subsistence harvests, the priority use of salmon designated by state and federal law, have displayed variable trends, primarily linked to local environmental variables and the food needs of people and sled dogs. Commercial fishing of western Alaska salmon stocks intensified during the early 1970s through 1980s, providing income to small-scale fishers selling to export markets. During the 1990s, commercial salmon harvests collapsed resulting in substantial decreases of income to villages. In the Yukon River drainage, families have culled dog teams in response to lower subsistence salmon harvests for dog food, impacting cultural traditions involving sled dogs. Declines in subsistence salmon harvests for food may lead to increased harvests of other wild-food species or cause human out-migration from villages; however, no programs are currently in place to monitor such effects. A growing number of case studies have documented the important contributions of Traditional Ecological Knowledge to fishery research as well as to the formulation of fisheries regulations.