Hello to all readers of our Yukon/Bering Sea juvenile salmon study! We are two technicians currently stationed in Emmonak, Alaska, conducting the in-river portion of the smolt outmigration study. Our daily routine involves getting up early and sampling the three major mouths of the Yukon River Delta (North, Middle, and South mouths- see previous blog entry on “Fishing”). At this time in the summer (late June through July) catches of juvenile salmon decline as most of the fish have already migrated out of the river. These days, we mostly catch different species of whitefish, with some juvenile burbot and salmon sprinkled in. While we always have a great time being out on the river and taking biological measurements and samples, the part of our job that makes our days even more enjoyable is our boat crew. We would like to take thisopportunity to talk a bit about the fishermen we work with every day,and how learning about their culture and lifestyle makes this project especially unique.
As mentioned in the first blog post, this project is a joint venture between NOAA, ADF&G, and YDFDA(Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association). Our four boat captains and their four deckhands are all local people from the village Alakanuk, just a short boat ride downstream from Emmonak. They are all related somehow, be it by blood, or through marriage, and their family has called the Yukon Delta area home for many generations. Working so closely with our captains and deckhands has given us invaluable perspective on both the fishing culture and the geography of the delta. We could not imagine doing this project without the knowledge that our local coworkers bring to the table.
It can take up to an hour and a half to travel between our fishing stations. During the transit time and in between towing sets while we wait for the net to do its job, we chat with our boat captain and deckhands for the day. We often talk about family, day-to-day stuff, but we also discuss parts of their culture that we are less familiar with as non-rural residents of Alaska. This family not only fish (commercial and subsistence fishing), but also hunts for many animals that are native to the area, including different seal species, whales, moose, birds, and small mammals. They spend their summers hunting and fishing to put away food for the long winters, which is when many of them trap, hunt, and forage to further expand their cache of food for their families. All of them are extremely kind people, very interested in the project, and are always laughing about something. They often help out on busy days with data recording, fish counting, and general boat help. Working with such a knowledgeable crew has been an unforgettable experience for both of us, and we look forward to working with the crew next summer season, as well as stay in touch for much longer.