Walrus hunt disappoints this year

Posted: Sunday, October 28, 2001

DILLINGHAM (AP) -- Hunting walrus on Round Island during October is never easy, but it's a lot worse when there aren't any walrus.

Facing high seas, winds in excess of 70 miles an hour, blowing snow and blizzard conditions, Dillingham walrus hunters were forced to turn back from this year's hunt.

''We didn't even get there,'' said Richard Hiratsuka, captain of one of two boats from Dillingham that attempted the journey to Round Island. ''The weather just never got better. We got stuck in a snow storm at Metarvik. We were shoveling some snow and ice off the deck, and there was just more ice coming.''

Hunters this year had three destinations: Cape Seinevan, Round Island or Cape Pierce.

Two boats attempted the trip from Dillingham along the coast around Cape Constantine, then to Kulukuk Bay and eventually to the hunting grounds in the Bering Sea at Round Island. The captain of the second boat, Bernie Lopez, was forced to turn his boat around because of an exhaust leak.

The two boats left Oct. 12 during a snow storm, said Hans Nicholson, subsistence coordinator for Bristol Bay Native Association.

Hiratsuka headed for Metarvik, which is part of Kulukuk Bay, and ended up being holed up in the Kulukuk River during a snowstorm. He lost his skiff in rough waters coming home.

''I didn't want to stick around much longer,'' Hiratsuka said. ''When we lost the skiff, the swells were just about as big as the boat, and it was pitch black. I heard the line snap, but I didn't even want to try and look for it.''

Dillingham, Ekuk, Aleknagik, Clarks Point, Manokotak, Twin Hills, Togiak and New Stuyahok are each allotted a percentage of the 20 walrus that can be taken each year.

Clarks Point went during the first week of the month and got one walrus, Nicholson said. They only saw 14 walrus on the island.

Twin Hills went one week later, and they saw no walrus on the island, and only one in the water. They were unsuccessful and went home empty.

Looking at walrus populations on the sanctuary this summer, Nicholson said there were no indicators that the hunt this fall would be so tough.

This year, populations at Cape Pierce were a bit low, but populations on the island were adequate, he said.

''They could be elsewhere feeding. They also could have migrated north early this year,'' said Frank Woods Jr., hunt captain of both the 1999 and 2000 walrus hunts.

Nicholson said economic factors had also come into play this year.

''We do receive $9,000 from the Eskimo Walrus Commission to pay for a pre-season hunt meeting, a post-season hunt meeting and to pay the required hunt monitor fees, but it's really not enough,'' Nicholson said.

''It's really expensive to go,'' Woods said. ''Paying for groceries and diesel, which is expensive for a fishing boat, then taking time off if you need to and getting a crew together when lots of people are working, it's tough.''

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