Knowles visits hard-hit fishing communities

Posted: Sunday, July 16, 2000

ANIAK (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles says he expects to know by Monday whether the salmon runs in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers will be designated a disaster.

Knowles made his comments Thursday as he started a two-day fact-finding mission. He is visiting seven communities hit hard by the collapse of salmon runs in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

Knowles left Anchorage Thursday morning and headed to Aniak and then to St Marys and Bethel. Accompanying him were Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue, subsistence director Mary Pete and rural affairs advisor Andy Ebona.

Knowles said he has sent a letter to President Clinton asking for help. Designating the runs as a disaster would open the way toward getting federal emergency money.

Residents in both communities talked about the urgency of the situation.

On the Yukon River, only about 8,600 king salmon have been harvested commercially -- just a fraction of the previous record low of about 43,000 in 1998. The numbers are down from years of commercial harvest of more than 100,000 kings.

Rep. Carl Morgan, who met Knowles at the airport in Aniak and who represents the areas the governor is visiting, said his constituents tell him that people on the upper Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers are having a very difficult time getting enough fish. The situation is so bad that some of them aren't able to catch enough to meet their subsistence needs, Morgan said.

In Aniak, his brother, Leo Morgan, president of the Kuskokwim Corp., said the loss of salmon in the rivers has had one interesting effect on the community. In the last two years, he said, dozens of bears have shown up at the local dump looking for food.

''Something is wrong here,'' he said. ''It's scary.''

The governor will be making stops at Emmonak, Kaltag, Galena and Fort Yukon before a final stop in Fairbanks and heading back Juneau.

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