Alaska salmon and freshwater fish have been critical to the survival of the people and wildlife in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (AYK) region for thousands of years. Encompassing over 40% of the state, 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, the Kuskokwim River watershed (including the coastal watersheds north of Cape Newenham), plus the Bering Sea marine ecosystem.
Salmon returns to western Alaska have been in decline for more than a decade, creating numerous hardships for the people and communities that depend so heavily on this fishery resource. Poor returns of Chinook and chum salmon to the Yukon River, Kuskokwim River, and rivers draining into Norton Sound have led to severe restrictions on commercial and subsistence fisheries and to repeated disaster declarations by the state and federal governments.
In response to these recent salmon declines, native regional organizations have joined with state and federal agencies to form an innovative partnership to cooperatively address salmon research and restoration needs. This partnership includes the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP), the Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC), Kawerak, Inc., Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association (BSFA), Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), plus additional native, governmental and NGO ex-officio partner institutions. In 2001, the partners established the AYK Sustainable Salmon Initiative (AYK SSI) through a Memorandum of Understanding 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) composed of members representing relevant scientific disciplines. In federal fiscal year 2002, Congress appropriated $5 million to support this interagency, multi-disciplinary research effort to determine the cause of the decline of salmon in the region.