Salmon Collapse Sends Alaskans on Lower Yukon Scrambling for Scarce Alternatives

By Zachariah Hughes.

Cyril Jones dropped hunks of moose meat off around town to neighbors who might need it.

He delivered a hefty rack of ribs, then he doubled back to the river to lug a rump roast and thick brisket slab from the floor of his boat to the front of his four-wheeler.

“We were out berry picking, saw a good sized bull,” Jones said of the fortuitous moose. His girlfriend shot it with a 30-.06 the evening prior. Jones and a relative made quick work of the carcass, breaking it down in hours. Now the 26-year-old was making deliveries to elders and others.

It’s been a different kind of summer in Emmonak and in communities of the Lower Yukon River region. There have been nowhere near the amounts of chum salmon, the river’s keystone stock, needed for a commercial or even subsistence harvest. In a place where culture and commerce both come from fishing nets, something essential is missing.

Late summer is usually one of the busiest times of the year in Emmonak: smokehouses full of fish, boats skittering over the river between nets and fish camps, the region’s only processing plant kinetic.