Native Village of Tuntutuliak

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Poor commercial fishery harvests devastated this village at the edge of the Kuskokwim River. At least 51 of 70 families here hold commercial fishing permits. Every family has at least one member with a crew license. The outlook is bleak for this year's salmon fishery set for June. The Board of Fisheries limited the commercial fishery in Area M, home to the controversial False Pass intercept fishery in the Bering Sea to three, 16-hour openings per week. It adopted a conservative strategy closer to home. As part of a management rebuilding plan to replenish threatened stocks, commercial fisheries will be closed until the board issues an emergency order to reopen it, perhaps as late as July. As a result Tuntutuliak residents fear for their future. Area M fishermen have been blamed for catching salmon before they have a chance to spawn, contributing to the disaster in the Yukon-Kuskokwin Delta, biologists said. And though local fishermen question the board's motives for possibly keeping the Kuskokwin River closed this year, most seemed willing to forgo it if it enhances the salmon numbers. Thomas Charlie, a commercial fisherman since the late '70s, said, "It seems to me that after I got my permit, it changed my life. I had enough money to buy my family fuel for the wintertime, food, clothes." He made between $500 and $700 a day in the late '80s, and no profit at all last year. Even with part-time work as a teacher's aide and home school advocate, he takes home less than $1,800 a month. "You become poor," he said. "You end up in a hole to pay off debts and certain costs, electric, sewer. It is hard to purchase gas and fuel."