Bob Poe: Let’s Hope They’re Right!


By Bob Poe

Earlier this month in Anchorage, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council was faced with the Solomonic choice between maintaining the lucrative Bering Sea Pollock fishery and significantly reducing Chinook bycatch to restore salmon runs in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

Residents of western Alaskan villages like Emmonak, Kotlik and Nunam Iqua were hopeful the Council would make real reductions in allowable salmon bycatch.  Commercial salmon fishing is one of the only ways to earn cash in villages along the Yukon and Kuskokwim.  Recent low Chinook returns combined with record high fuel prices forced some western Alaska residents this year to choose between heating their homes and feeding their families.

Chinook salmon bycatch has climbed to record levels nearly doubling from 67,363 salmon in 2005 to 121,638 in 2007.  Salmon taken as bycatch don’t survive to return to their natal rivers for harvest or spawning.  The limited number of salmon currently making it into the rivers must be allowed to pass by local fishers in order to meet escapement targets and to meet treaty obligations between the US and Canada.

On the surface the solution seems simple; just stop the offshore trawlers from catching Chinook salmon. Trawlers can avoid bycatch by not fishing in waters where the Chinook population is high and by using new technologies that encourage salmon to swim out before they are crushed in the trawl net.

But fish politics are never simple. In the early 1990’s, during the Hickel Administration, the Council established a program called CDQ (Community Development Quota).  These communities get a share of the Pollock resource allocation each year and either contract to have it harvested or own the trawlers to do it themselves. Sixty five communities within a 50 mile radius of the Bering Sea coastline, divided into six regional non-profit organizations, participate.  CDQ groups earn tens of millions of dollars each year for their communities.  They have built a variety of local seafood processing enterprises, made loans to fishers in their regions, provide scholarships, and good paying jobs to their residents.

With so much at stake, hundreds of western Alaskans came to testify to the Council.  It took days to get through, but unlike past testimony rural residents were divided.  Testifiers recognized the importance of salmon to their communities both from a cultural and nutritional perspective, but they also understood the economic benefits brought to their communities through offshore fishing. A large group from Coastal Villages Region Fund, one of the six CDQ groups, made this point with their bright yellow T-shirts proclaiming “Pollock provides”.

The Council considered proposals ranging from setting a hard cap between 29,323 and 87,500 king salmon, to keeping the status quo.  Pollock trawlers and some CDQ’s wanted a cap of around 68,000 fish, with incentives to encourage the use of gear that could help reduce bycatch further.  Most of the non-CDQ representatives from western Alaska were advocating a cap of about 32,000 or less based on 1992-2001 average bycatch levels.

Unfortunately in the end, the Council voted unanimously for a hard cap almost twice the number hoped for by those depending on the salmon fishery. Incentives and penalties were also established to encourage the trawl fleet to avoid catching salmon, which industry says will help reduce bycatch below the hard cap of 60,000.

But this isn’t just about economic contention for limited fish resources – it’s about feeding families who have traditionally obtained nutrition and income from salmon runs in the Yukon and Kuskokwim. If the Pollock fishers already know how to reduce salmon bycatch and simply need encouragement to adopt better practices and gear, wouldn’t a lower hard cap be the best encouragement?  The Council has done a good job over the years, but it seems at this point all western Alaska residents can do is hope they are right.  If western Alaska continues to see poor returns and bycatch isn’t significantly reduced as a result of the Council’s action, the Council needs to immediately revisit this matter and put more stringent bycatch limits in place.


I received a Facebook friend request from Alaska gubernatorial candidate, Bob Poe. When I accepted, he replied with this article  about bycatch issues in the Yukon Delta fishery. He offered his permission to print it at anonymous bloggers.  Additionally, Mr. Poe has expressed an interest in listening to my input, and that from all of us here at anonymous bloggers, in addressing issues facing rural Alaska.

I look  forward to working with not only Mr. Poe, but all current and future elected officials in building more sustainable bush communities.

22 Responses to “Bob Poe: Let’s Hope They’re Right!”

  1. Alaska Pi ∆ Says:

    I worry that far too little hard science has been part of the latest run at sorting out the Chinook fishery problem.
    It is all well and good to balance human economic wants/needs amongst groups but how can meaningful long term solutions be found without studying the impact of bycatch carefully?

  2. Alaska Pi ∆ Says:

    Also, I have talked to friends who have a growing concern that the corporate structure of CDQs puts them increasingly out of touch with their shareholders’ concerns about the lower and lower returns of Chinook. It is all too human for such entities to become self-sustaining in orientation and drift further and further away from their stated purpose…I feel we need some heavy instate dialogue about this.
    The MSC (?) certification both commercial fisheries rely on attempts to require a balance between optimization of each resource with neither excluding the other. We may be on the edge of having let the Chinook fishery resource deteriorate irretreivably by having our eyes on the bigger prize… This worries me.

  3. Alaska Pi ∆ Says:

    woops- bigger DOLLAR prize…

  4. Dee Says:

    Alaska Pi, I also am concerned about the lack of science involved in the Chinook fishery bycatch problem. Traditional knowledge is telling us we are damaging our salmon returns. I wonder what our friends up river think of us when they have no salmon. It is especially worrisome that Bob Poe’s leading comment is “Let’s hope they are right”. We can’t sit back and just hope the fisheries council and the CDQs are correct. Closing our eyes and hoping someone else is doing the right thing is frightening. We need to take action, gain knowledge, put together a team that can give us the science and lead the way to healthier rivers. We cannot be passive and just hope the other guy in power will do the right thing by our rivers. Bob Poe’s attitude will give us more of the same government bueaucratic vague answers. I think Western Alaska can do a lot more than just ‘hope they are right’. I think Western Alaska can unite together and work together for a healthy solutionfor the salmon, rivers, and people. Bob Poe’s passive attitude will appease those interested only in money for sure. And then …when there are no more salmon.. Bob Poe can say.. well. we hoped for the best…

  5. ForAlaska Says:

    Hmmmm, I read the title of this piece a little differently I guess…I think “Let’s Hope They’re Right” implies a needed sceptisim of the decision that was made and the requirement to hold the decision-makers accountable…this article asks that we remain vigilant in our oversight of this important resource and not forget the needs of local communities…which are varied and complex…

    As an Alaska Native living between two worlds, I empathize with a number of different positions as our community of indigenous peoples in Alaska is as varied, or more so, as any other group of people are in this world. The idea there are a number of different solutions to the same problem is actually often better understood in Native cultures than in non-Native where my observations have been you are either “for or againest” something. We, as Alaska Natives, do ourselves a disservice if we allow others to believe we are a monolithic culture, living as one with nature, in perpetuity…we are sometimes that, but we are also a people who can adapt, grow and develop unique solutions to problems.

    We are responsible for our own solutions and we will be forever disempowered if we assert that others have all the power whether we are talking about a particular politician or decision-making group. the responsibility lies with those who are willing to work toward a solution…i welcome that responsibility.

  6. Secret TalkerΔ Says:

    I understood the comment in much the same way as you ,For Alaska. Thanks for articulating it..apreciate the rest of your comment too.

  7. annstrongheart Says:


    Not only do I think that we need to hold our current elected officials accountable for their actions but we need to ascertain how accountable our future elected officials are going to be.

    That is why I am happy that we have at least two gubernatorial canidates joining us here at AB to help us understand where they stand on issues concerning bush Alaska.

  8. Alaska Pi ∆ Says:

    It’s hard to tell if Mr Poe is seriously hoping -they’re -right or taking a step back and putting the question out there that it is unlikely that anyone won with the latest NPFMC decision.
    It struck a similar chord with me in terms of feeling like we no longer have the time to wait and see what the usual players come up with to deal with these issues.
    Lack of substantive information on salmon returning to spawn to Western Alaska rivers, morbidity rates of juveniles in percentages of natural and per bycatch causes, DNA of bycatch to see where they originated, and so on leaves so much of what folks say about all of this in the realm of speculation. We’ll skip right on by the treaty with Canada to increase runs for now.
    CDQs with feet in both worlds- home Chinook and sea pollack- have a mixed history of addressing both fish resources .

    There is a real need for folks to gather themselves together and address the lack of real information available to make informed decisions.
    I think it is foolish to let the Chinook resource stay on the back burner too long . Recent years’ returns are a warning of some kind.

  9. annstrongheart Says:

    I can see both Dee and ForAlaska’s sides of the issue.

    Although I do think that Native and rural Alaskans need to stop sitting around hoping their elected officials, be it the State, Feds or CDQ’s or Corporations, do the right thing.

    It’s well past the time that Native and rural Alaskans learn that we do have a voice and if we all stand up together and speak for our rights they will have to listen to us. I have seen too many Native and rural Alaskans that seem to be resigned to the outcomes on various issues. They don’t seem to understand that everyone has a say in what happens not only here in bush Alaska but across the state/nation. We need to learn what our rights are and learn how to exercise them and then do it. Especially when it comes to holding our leaders (State/Fed/Tribal) accountable for their actions.

  10. Just wondering Says:

    Ann – OK I am getting down off my soap box again LOL ;-)

    Don’t you dare!!

    It’s voices like yours and Nick’s and Vic’s and AKM’s that have brought rural Alaskan issues to the attention of people outside the bush and the state of Alaska.

    Keep speaking out and we’ll cover your back. You have no idea how many people you have inspired this winter and what a bright light you have shed on the lifestyle Native people are struggling to maintain.

    Don’t ever step off that soapbox – you are the spirit of the Alaskan bush!

  11. Rob Rosenfeld Says:

    Better targetted fishing will reduce the bycatch. Increased fines and increased monitoring are also necessary to provide the necessary incentives for the industry to minimize the bycatch. Additionally, the hard cap should be progressively lowered.

    Science is key but is often manipulated to benefit those that can afford the lobbyists that can influence the regulators. Let’s get real. While a powerful industry thrives the people of the interior rivers suffer.

  12. Dee Says:

    Rob, Thanks for some clear direction. Although I know no solution will be easy in this matter, it is good to hear someone talk in a language that does not cloud the issue with statistics and numbers. I agree with you, science is key, and it can be used to the advantage of those with the most influence. I also know, when the communities are given the scientific information they can make great use of it.

    I am with Rob, Ann and Just Wondering in thinking that it is time the communities are the key players here. The people have been vocal, but it is up to the leaders to support these voices and allow them to be heard. I agree with ‘ForAlaska’ when they say the communities are not monolithic. I never said they were, in fact I would argue that rural Alaska communities are masters in adaptation. However, I would not agree that all non-native communities are either for or against something as stated by ‘For Alaska”. That is a decisive bias that I am not willing to make. I believe it is time we had a Governor that has experience working with many cultures in Alaska. We need someone that can understand and articulate the science to those that want and need this information. While this person also needs to have a respectful working relationship with Tribes to best understand the multi-tribal cultures’ way of adapting to this ever changing world and to meet the communities’ needs.

  13. Rob Rosenfeld Says:

    You hit on some great points Dee. Well said. I agree that native communities should have a greater influence on decisions that impact their lives. It is time for the Federal government to adhere to government to government responsibilities required by past presedential executive orders. And it is time that the State of Alaska adhere to the Administrative Order from past Governor Knowles, requiring state governmental entities to engage in consultation with tribal governments on decisions that may impact their lives.

    I have worked for 12 years in a Director role with the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council. It has been an honor to serve this consortia of 66 tribes and to assist in ensuring that the voice of the tribes are heard in a respectful, non-polarizing and inclusive manner. I intend to end up in Juneau to better serve Alaska as Governor.

    It is a new path for me as I’m not a career politician. Although I have served on the ground for many years. Great dialogue. Thanks

  14. Elsie Says:

    Hi, y’all.

    I noticed that the Western Alaska Community Development Association (WACDA) web site ( shows that a new regulation was passed last year.

    “Each CDQ Entity shall submit an annual report to its member villages summarizing financial operations for the previous calendar year. The annual financial report required … shall be submitted by the CDQ Entity to its member villages by no later than July 31 of each year. The annual report …. shall be sent by each CDQ entity to every mail box in its member villages, and shall additionally be sent by the Entity together with a copy of the Entity’s most recent completed IRS Form 990 to the Alaska Region of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.”

    My questions:

    On the surface, the new regulation requiring all the CDQs to publish an annual report would appear, to me, to be a significant improvement towards illuminating the secrecy of the financial workings of the CDQs—perhaps, in the best of all possible worlds, even affecting the elections of their board members. What’s the reality for expecting any meaningful, measurable improvements that will benefit the villagers in dealing openly with management of the CDQs and having a real say in how things are run and the money generated is spent? Have any of you seen a discussion of this anywhere?


  15. Just wondering Says:

    Bravo Elsie!

    It seems to be the time to start asking politicians to look into and answer questions about the inner workings of the CDQs. They are such a mystery!

    It will be interesting to follow the candidates’ thoughts on the role of CDQs going forward – not political pandering but a real explanation of what they are doing, right and wrong, and a call for transparency in their financial practices.

    Thanks for bringing it up!

  16. ForAlaska Says:

    This is a great discussion…I agree we do need a Governor that can represent people of all our different people, cultures and regions (including urban and rural) in Alaska—and has the will, experience and integrity to do the job.

    I agree with Dee it was wrong of me to bifurcate people in Alaska into just two camps–Native vs. non-Native…I reflected on that statement after I made it and I too felt it was divisive and regretted it…having grown up Native in Alaska and been at the receiving end of such narrow thinking, bias and downright racism, I should know better. So thanks for making sure I thought about that…

    Let’s all work to take responsibility for our words and actions…let’s hold others accountable for their words and actions…and let’s work together and not apart…

  17. robrosenfeld Says:

    CDQ groups have received their guidelines for operating from the State and Federal regulating entities. State and Federal entities are required to engage in meaningful consultation with Tribal Governments. Tribal Governments have a unique opportunity to demand their place at real and meaningful decision making tables.

    That said, sound science and maximum collaboration is needed to ensure that the voices of non-native rural Alaskans combined with traditional and contemporary science are included in real decisions.

    Consultation with tribal governments can not be a game of make pretend. The word, “meaningful” is the operative word.

    I have always encouraged tribes to engage in strategic planning with municipal governments and corporations so a unified message is conveyed to the regulators.

    Sound science partners are desireable, while questions for further research and information gathering can and should be derived from traditional knowledge and local observation.

  18. Elsie Says:

    Something that occurs to me is how absolutely wonderful it would be for a conscientious, knowledgeable person to draw up a comprehensive diagram of the interrelationships between the many various federal agencies, the Alaskan state agencies, the tribal governmental entities, the local municipalities, the ancillary organizations, and whatever the heck else is set up to govern, lead, control, direct, finance, assist, or engage the citizens of Alaska. Is there already a written source somewhere that is ready for curious people to go to, to take a look? My perspective is particularly on Western Alaska, but I’m open to any fabulous explanation that breaks down the entire governmental structure of the seemingly hundreds of groups and reveals their relationships and power structures in some organized way. Any takers out there?

    And after that, I’ve got a few more ideas for questions about trying to understand who all holds sway over the people of Alaska at any given time, the relationships between and among the groups, the ultimate power brokers, who they are, how they are elected or appointed, etc. But, first, a family tree of Alaskan governmental and tribal entitities would be amazing, at this point!


  19. anonymousbloggers Says:

    An index to the alphabet soup of Alaska’s agencies and entities would be helpful too! CDQ, NPFMC, YRITWC!

    People assume everyone is familiar with the abbreviations. Thanks to both candidates for identifying the body before switching to initials.

    Sometimes the main stream media (MSM) doesn’t even provide a clue.


  20. Elsie Says:

    For example, to continue with my desire to understand the governmental structures, who all controls the fisheries? Let’s just start THERE!!!

    The U.S. Dept. of Commerce is at the top of the list, I think, and holds ultimate authority over all the fisheries. How effective is THAT? How long does it take for Alaskans to send in a plan or receive a decision? If a “no” decision comes back, how many years does it take to implement a new decision? How badly does that time lag affect the fisheries if they are being overfished already?

    Down from that, of several fishery management councils, isn’t the North Pacific Fishery Management Council the section of oversight, from three miles out to 200 miles offshore, for Alaska fisheries? But aren’t most of those same NPFMC board members out of Seattle and run large commercial pollock/other big operations? Doesn’t that “stack the deck” against the many small, one boat-type, local Alaskan fishing groups?

    Very important to all this, you also have the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game controlling most of the river fishing, too, up to three miles offshore. What other powers do they hold over the fishing decisions…Are their boards all appointed?

    How does the Board of Fisheries fit into all this? They DEFINITELY are governor appointees. Hmmm…how compromised is that decision-making group by political favors or relationships?

    Then, you have the Federal Subsistence Management agency controlling fishing, etc., on all Alaskan federal lands, right? This was set up to protect subsistence families after the Alaska Supreme Court ruled against the rights of subsistence dwellers years ago, which led to the feds coming in to the state to protect the subsistence fishers, trappers, hunters, etc.

    How does that conflict with the state closing fishing in certain areas….do the subsistence fishing folks answer to the feds letting them or the state denying them fishing on certain rivers, that might pass through federal lands, at certain times of the year?

    And then, are the CDQs only about the relationship to Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, Gulf of Alaska, Bristol Bay, etc. fishing OFFSHORE?

    Are tribal councils/corporations/villages/municipal governments making edicts, too, about fishing?

    Whatever I missed here, please fill in the blanks. It’s like a spiderweb or a maze of interactions that seem overwhelming to understand their workings/interworkings/failure to work together. And, of course, these questions here are only about FISHING!


  21. robrosenfeld Says:

    Now we are getting to one of the main issues. I have referred to the reality of regulators as the “Regulatory Pie” The pie has about 12-13 pieces on any given issue. For Fisheries there are a good deal of regulating entities with a significant voice. The same is so when it comes to wildlife management, emergency response, and water permitting.

    The complexity of the above lends itself to an environment of overlapping and conflicting jurisdictions.

    After 9-11 the Intelligence community was tasked with better coordination. The result was several innovative approaches to improve communications, knowledge, information sharing and coordination between entities. For example: senior management in each entity was required to engage in work exchange with at least two other related entities before they could be promoted. This was a great idea.

    In order for us to get beyond the confusion, we need to get everyone in the same room and create a regulatory manual that describes who does what as Elsie has suggested. I’m not sure who would be best suited to take on this project or of if it has already been done.

    About 10 years ago, I developed something along these lines for entities involved in water related decisions. It is very out dated and is more like a phone book at this point. It needs work to suit the needs of a discussion like this.

    Elected officials can play a role by reviewing legislation associated with the jurisdiction of each entity and determine when legislation can be passed to avoid duplication of efforts.

    As far as tribal entities go:

    There about 231 tribes in Alaska. The list can be obtained from the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) and / or the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council (AITC). AFN was created for various reasons, one of which is to be a political voice and AITC was created for several reasons as well, one of which is to build tribal capacity.

    The fabric of tribal entities include regional and village corporations. There are 13 Regional corporations with dozens of village corporations. The Regional corporations have sub-surface rights and the village corporations have surface rights.

    In each region their are one to two more significant entities: For example in the Athabascan Region: there is Tanana Chiefs Conference. Tanana Chiefs conference provides health care and more, as does the Yukon – Koyukuk Tribal Health Consortia in the Yupik and Cupik region. In the Athabascan Region there is also Fairbanks Native Association who provide services for native individuals in the Fairbanks area and the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments who provide health care and more in the Gwich’in Athabascan region (the Yukon Flats)

    There is also the Alaska Village Council Presidents who provide a variety of services to more then 50 villages in Yupik and Cupik communities.

    The Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council works in Canada and Alaska with 66 tribes and first nations. Fifty-three are in Alaska. you can check out the YRITWC at Check out the publications section and you can see a manual we put together called, “Opportunities for the Protection the Yukon River Watershed” This is focused on Internatioanl Treaties and Agreements and there is a short section on the Pacific Salmon Treaty and the 1992 North Pacific Salmon Treaty.

    You will also see a book on domestic regulating entities regarding water on the site.

  22. anonymousbloggers Says:

    To keep this on topic, please continue commenting on the questions raised by Elsie on this thread:


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