Written by Christine Woll, Southeast Alaska Program Director of The Nature Conservancy 

Beach seining on Klawock Lake. Photo by Lee House

 

“What does sockeye salmon mean to Klawock?  I didn’t have to think that hard about that question.  Klawock is here because of sockeye salmon.”  Lawrence Armour, the mayor and tribal administrator of the Klawock Cooperative Association opened the Klawock Lake Sockeye Salmon Stakeholders meeting on November 14 on Prince of Wales Island.  This 2-day gathering brought together  community members, land managers, local government officials, fish and wildlife managers, tribal members, researchers and subsistence and commercial fishers in order to build a common understanding of the history and current status of sockeye salmon in the Klawock Lake Watershed.  Stakeholders identified opportunities to partner on shared goals that will help steward this critical resource.

As the mayor mentioned, sockeye salmon has long been the critical resource that brought people to Klawock.  Tlingit settlers from Tuxekan first used this area as a fishing camp during the summer, fashioning traditional fish traps, the remnants of which you can still see today in the tidal flats.  In 1878, one of the first Alaskan canneries was built in Klawock, and a significant commercial sockeye fishery operated out here through the late 1930s.  Today, sockeye continues to be of high value in the community – as Millie Schoonover, the president of the Craig village native corporation Shaan Seet, inc., stated “Sockeye is not just about subsistence – it is our traditional food.”

It is well documented in Klawock traditional knowledge that sockeye salmon have declined over the last century.   The potential factors for these declines have been studied over many years, and are very complex and intertwined.  These factors include:

  • Commercial harvest of sockeye salmon in the past and climatic change may have permanently altered the ecology of the lake;
  • Significant timber harvest, road building, and other development have altered the health of the spawning habitat
  • A salmon hatchery, permitted before the Alaska Department of Fish and Game stopped permitting hatcheries on wild salmon streams, likely interacts with wild sockeye in unknown ways;
  • And commercial and subsistence harvest continues to impact run size.

The Sustainable Southeast Partnership’s community fisheries program focuses on ensuring that local priorities are central to fish and fish habitat management.  So when the organizers of the meeting began to plan this meeting, we knew that community priorities must take precedent to enable continual long-term stewardship and action.  As community member Harry Jackson stated, “We are the original stakeholders of Klawock Lake.”  Two community meetings and an online community meeting offered the general public a time to come, eat salmon, hear music and dance, and share their thoughts on how the community and managers should approach salmon stewardship. Over 100 people attended these events or responded to the survey.  Quinn Aboudara, the Klawock community catalyst, followed the Mayor in the agenda, and presented on the results of this outreach..  It was made clear that sockeye harvest continues to be a major subject of passion and survival.  Salmon habitat management, hatchery protocols, overharvest, and climate change were all voiced by participants as concerns.  Many respondents also offered possible solutions, ranging from raising sockeye salmon in the hatchery;  improving habitat; practicing traditional methods of predator control, and others.

The meeting also offered community leaders and members the opportunity to hear from managers and researchers on their current practices and information.  Meeting participants learned the process for influencing and changing regulations in subsistence and commercial fisheries. Participants discussed and debated hatchery practices with the hatchery managers and regulators.  And, they provided feedback on ongoing research into the ecology and habitat condition of Klawock Lake. 

It is hard to facilitate difficult conversations like these when so much is at stake.  These conversations require attention to power dynamics, avoidance of technocratic language, and the willingness to move past conflict. Luckily, participants acknowledged that they were all here for the same reasons – because they cared about sockeye.  This type of shared learning and understanding between the community and managers is often the first step towards solutions, and an essential part of successful community fishery programs. 

Meeting participants acknowledge that, in Klawock Lake, there is no “smoking gun.”  No one action or one person is going to bring back sockeye salmon to historical levels.  Brainstorming and discussions brought forth many great ideas and recommendations on ways to move forward – together. For example, participants recommended community-facilitated harvest reporting, watershed monitoring projects for students, and a community task force to develop recommendations on hatchery practices.  We hope that the relationships and trust built at this meeting will help catalyze these next steps into action – and lead to a thriving future for this community fishery.

Stakeholders gather in Klawock to discuss stewarding the critical salmon resource. Photo by Christine Woll.

This meeting was sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, the Southeast Alaska Fish Habitat Partnership, the Klawock Cooperative Association, and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership.  The meeting was funded by the North Pacific Research Board.  Thank you, Gunalchéesh, and Háw’aa to everyone who helped organize, facilitate, provide food and logistics, offer review and guidance, and share their knowledge before and at the meeting – all were essential to making this happen.  To learn more about the final synthesis from recent research and this meeting, please contact Christine Woll at cwoll@tnc.org

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