Arctic Yukon Kuskokwim Sustainable Salmon Initiative

The Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Sustainable Salmon Initiative (AYK SSI) is an innovative partnership between public and private institutions which provides a forum for non-governmental organizations and state and federal agencies to cooperatively identify and address salmon research and restoration needs. The affected region encompasses over 40% of the State of Alaska; the AYK region includes the watersheds of the Norton Sound region up to and including the village of Shishmaref, the Yukon River Watershed within Alaska, and the Kuskokwim River Watershed (including the coastal watersheds north of Cape Newenham), plus the Bering Sea marine ecosystem.

The AYK SSI is a response to disastrously low salmon returns to western Alaska in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which created numerous hardships for the people and communities which depend heavily on the salmon fishery. Some stocks in the region have been in a decline for more than a decade and a half, leading to severe restrictions on commercial and subsistence fisheries. The first step for the AYK SSI has been to collaboratively develop and implement a comprehensive research plan to understand the causes of the declines and recoveries of AYK salmon.

Created via a memorandum of understanding, the AYK SSI partnership includes the Association of Village Council Presidents; the Tanana Chiefs Conference; Kawerak, Inc.; Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association; Alaska Department of Fish and Game; NOAA- Fisheries; and US Fish & Wildlife Service. In 2001, the partners established the AYK SSI and created a process and structure to ensure the coordinated expenditure of research funds. The AYK SSI is governed by an eight-member Steering Committee (SC) and advised by a six-member Scientific Technical Committee (STC). The AYK SSI has been funded by the U.S. Congress and the Alaska State Legislature.

The kinds of information and the means of collecting it are defined by the diverse nature of the SC’s membership. In addition to studying the biology and physics of salmon production, the SC is concerned with how humans impact salmon and with the evaluation and development of tools to be applied to managing human impacts on the fishery and ecosystem. As understanding salmon and their movements through the AYK ecosystems has been a preoccupation of local inhabitants for millennia, the SC’s studies will rely on local residents as much as possible to provide necessary information and to identify avenues of inquiry to achieve the Program goal. To acquire the information necessary to sustainably manage salmon, the SC is also interested in assisting in building the infrastructure and personnel capacity to support salmon research and restoration in local communities.

Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association was chosen to provide the administrative oversight and with that authority we manage and provide guidance to the SC and the STC, we oversee and assist project investigators with their project needs and fulfill education and outreach activities to distribute the research findings and program accomplishments.

Additional information is provided on the AYK SSI website at (www.aykssi.org).