Some 7,500 people live in the Bristol Bay region, the vast majority of them Alaska Natives. For thousands of years, the primarily Yup’ik Eskimo, Alutiiq and Athabaskan tribal members of Bristol Bay have typically consumed up to 2.4 million pounds of wild salmon annually. With wild salmon comprising 52 percent of the average Native family’s diet, these fish and the clean water they depend on are key to survival in this remote corner of the nation’s northernmost state. Besides salmon, berries, caribou, moose, marine mammals, ptarmigan, ducks, geese and wild plants comprise the main subsistence foods for Bristol Bay residents.
Harvesting Bristol Bay wild salmon does more than put food on the table. It helps sustain the economy in a region with high costs and limited employment opportunities. For instance, Alaska Native households that use Bristol Bay wildlife refuges to hunt, fish and gather spend an average of $2,300 per year on subsistence-related equipment. Additionally, non-Native households spend $600 annually for this purpose. Overall, the value of the Bristol Bay subsistence harvest by Alaskan Natives is worth between $77.8 million and $143.1 million.
In addition to salmon, freshwater species provide Bristol Bay residents with year-round opportunities to fish. Between 70 and 100 percent of rural households annually harvest 18,000 to 50,000 pounds of non-salmon fish to supplement their diets. Because subsistence fishing is vital to the nutritional and cultural needs of Alaska Natives in the Bristol Bay region, the rivers, streams, and lakes of this beautiful and incredibly productive watershed must be permanently protected. For generations, Alaska Natives have hunted, fished, thrived and survived on the lands surrounding Bristol Bay and these activities are central to the survival of these indigenous people. As Alaska Natives elders pass traditions and subsistence practices on to their children and grandchildren, they have the right to know that the basis of their way of life for countless generations is secure and will not be squandered.