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Yukon Fishermen Celebrate Ten Years

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INTRO: This week, fishermen along Alaska's Yukon River are gathering to talk about salmon management. But as Doug Schneider reports in this week's Arctic Science Journeys Radio, their meeting in the village of Fort Yukon marks a milestone for the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association.

STORY: Ten years ago, dozens of fishermen along the 2,000 mile long Yukon River in Alaska braved minus 50 degree temperatures to gather at the tiny community center in the village of Galena. Salmon returns to the river had fallen dramatically, and fishermen were worried. Dan Albrecht, one of the fishermen at the meeting, remembers.

ALBRECHT: "Well, I think what drove people on the Yukon to get united was that 1990 was the first drop in chum salmon production that was seen on the Yukon River. The other issue that was going on was that there were these long simmering allocation battles."

From that meeting, the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association was born. Its mission: to improve salmon stocks on the river and to give fishermen a voice in how salmon are managed. This week marks the tenth anniversary of that meeting. Dan Albrecht is now the association's executive director. He says the association has earned the respect of both fishermen and fishery managers.

ALBRECHT: "What people have seen is that there's real value to the process of the association. Through the annual meetings and through conference calls we work on 100 percent consensus. So that really forces people to compromise. Both the Department of Fish and Game and the Board of Fisheries respect the opinions and suggestions that we come up with on management plans."

Albrecht says one of the association's most notable accomplishments was getting the state Board of Fish to adopt a cap on the number of western Alaska chum salmon that could be intercepted by large factory trawlers. The cap boosted the number of salmon returning to the river to spawn. Albrecht is also proud of the association's role marketing western Alaska salmon under the brand name Arctic Keta.

ALBRECHT: "We started working with the processors to promote Yukon River salmon, to tell the story of Yukon River salmon and let the consumer know that there is a difference. We've grown the Seattle market from less than 5,000 pounds of premium Yukon king salmon to up to 40-, 50-, 60,000 pounds a year there."

Yet for all the success, there have been drawbacks. Albrecht says it was disheartening to see salmon returns decline in 1998 and again in 1999, after several years of promising returns. Also discouraging has been the lack of research to understand why western Alaska salmon runs have declined and how they might be restored.

ALBRECHT: "Nobody's really taking a hard look, especially at the survival of salmon at sea. How can we begin to forecast marine productivity of salmon? It's very frustrating."

On the surface, the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association is about salmon. But if you look closer, you can see that it's really about people.

ALBRECHT: "Every time we have an annual meeting we always do it in a different village on the Yukon River. We're now on our tenth annual meeting. What's really nice about it is that every time we bring people from different parts of the Yukon together, they're really always amazed at the similarity of their villages. That really builds a lot of mutual respect, and people begin to see that they have a lot in common."

This year's annual meeting and ten year celebration is being held this week in the Yukon River community of Fort Yukon.

OUTRO: This is Arctic Science Journeys Radio, a production of the Alaska Sea Grant Program and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I'm Doug Schneider.

Thanks to the following individual for help preparing this script:

Dan Albrecht, Executive Director
Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association
725 Christianson, Suite 3B
Anchorage, Alaska 99501
Ph: 907-272-3141
Fx: 907 272-3142

For more information about the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association or the Yukon River in general, check out these web sites.

Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association

Yukon River

Arctic Science Journeys is a radio service highlighting science, culture, and the environment of the circumpolar north. Produced by the Alaska Sea Grant College Program and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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