Heavy Summer Rainfall Limits Fishing Season
During the summer in Interior Alaska, residents spend a great deal of time fishing and picking berries to put away for the winter, just as with Alaskans throughout the state. Residents from the Koyukuk River and other interior villages begin hunting for moose and caribou in early fall. This summer, several Interior communities received a record amount of rainfall that caused flooding and limited the fishing opportunities until late July.
Allakaket, 108 residents and Alatna, 26 residents, were hit particularly hard as they experienced high water since spring break up. When the water levels began to drop in late July, residents were finally able to put their gill nets in the river for salmon and white fish. Residents reminisced about the flood that wiped out the homes and buildings in 1994 due to the high waters that summer. The communities were rebuilt after the flood, but some residents have not fully recovered through the loss of boating equipment and gear.
Don and Marion Acker of Allakaket have not purchased another boat and rely on others to provide subsistence foods such as fish and moose in the summer and fall. They have to purchase food from the store. Marion was given salmon in June and due to the rain, had to wait until late July to dry and smoke her fish. She also plants fruits and vegetables to supplement her food cache.
The community of Alatna is now located on top of a large hill and is about a mile from the Koyukuk River. Michelle Moses of Alatna says, “We lost our close connection to the water.” People who have boats and nets are setting their nets now, but are not sure if they have enough time to get enough fish for the winter.
Irene Henry of Allakaket, says, “It’s going to be a long winter if we don’t get fish.” If the weather is good, people go out seining for fish toward the end of August and in September. Steve Bergman, Irene’s brother, gave her some white fish. Irene smokes fish in her smokehouse, freezes it or bakes it right away. She remembers smoking and baking white fish on a stick and grilling it when she was growing up.
The community held a culture camp located up the Alatna River, a few miles from Allakaket. Elders and youth gathered for the annual camp to share traditional stories, learn how to set a net and cut fish, pick blueberries and play games.
Emily Gray of Allakaket relies on her brothers for subsistence fish and moose. Shawn fishes in late summer and hunts moose in the fall. According to Emily, they have seen a decline in caribou since the building of the pipeline. Emily and her family grew up eating moose, caribou, fish and other smaller animals. She and her daughters pick blueberries and cranberries in late summer.
A meeting was held in Allakaket in July to discuss the proposed Ambler Mining District Road. Many residents are concerned about potential pollution, the change in migratory patterns of the Western Arctic Caribou herd and the impact to the region if accessible by road.
The Dalton Highway is close to Bettles, with a population of 14 and is just up the river from Allakaket. According to Emily Bergman, “We could be boxed in by a road to the south and to the north of us. How can we get food?”
Officials from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) held meetings in the villages to evaluate a potential road corridor to the Ambler Mining District in northwest Alaska. The Ambler Mining District is an area with rich mineral resources, including copper, zinc, lead and gold. According to AIDEA, the project team is working with residents and communities to address their concerns and will be thoroughly investigating all potential impacts on communities and subsistence resources.
Steve Bergman of Allakaket has a large extended family to feed and relies on subsistence fishing and hunting throughout the year. He also has to feed his 18 dogs and pups. Steve is way behind on fishing due to high water. He says, “I’ll have to go to plan B. I’ll get white fish and sheefish up the Alatna River.”
In order to go out hunting and fishing, people need to buy fuel that currently costs $7 per gallon. That can be a burden too difficult to overcome for some. People prefer local subsistence foods over the store-bought food, but many times they don’t have a choice. Steve says, “It can be twice as bad because of all of the money spent on fuel and they end up without money for food.
”Steve is seeing a decline in fishing over the years. He used to catch over 1,000 lush fish with a fish trap and over 1,000 salmon using a gill net. Steve plans to set five nets at his fish camp about 12 miles away from Allakaket.
According to Michelle Moses, Alatna does not have a stable cash economy. Some people in Allakaket and Alatna rely on food stamps to survive and to supplement their subsistence caches. In addition to filling freezers for the winter with subsistence foods and berries, residents also donate food to cook for local gatherings and memorial potlatches.
Village Voices will continue to include articles on the traditional uses of fish and game gathering in Alaska.
Alaskans rely on the land and its resources throughout the seasons. Please forward your stories and photos to Angela Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can include them in future issues.