Time to stir the mud and draw up some controversy….
It’s at this time of year that I start getting that itch to hike in the hills and look for large brown moosies. I want to fill my freezer with meat that I know was raised right and is healthy for my family! I was raised on moose meat and I have strong memories of my dad going hunting every fall in Soldotna, AK. I remember as a young person, spending the night at a friends house and wondering why their meat tasted like cardboard. I later found out that it was store bought beef and it was very bland compared to the moose meat that I was used to.
As we move closer to the hunting season, I have the urge to buy a gun, ammo, meat bags, 4-wheeler, and a trailer. I get the urge to secure any item that will help me fill that freezer with healthy moose meat. I know this is not your typical girlie behavior but that is what happens when your raised in Alaska. I remember helping my mom and dad cutting meat off the carcass, cleaning it, wrapping it in freezer paper, and marking it with the date, type of meat, and the cut of the meat.
Two years ago, we got two caribou and those really helped us to eat right and cut our grocery budget over time. With meat prices going up at the stores, it’s really worth it to spend a little to catch that elusive moose. Yet, moose are one of my favorite animals to watch and photograph and I highly respect those animals. I believe that farmers feel the same way about their cows. If you know how it has been raised, then you know your eating well. You respect the meat that you are eating.
My husband, an Alaskan Native from the Kuskokwim River region, finds it difficult to hunt in the South-Central area of Alaska. Where he grew up, they would climb into the boat and head upriver, usually up the Holitna River, and find a moose hanging out on the edge of the river. Sometimes they were lucky enough to not have to drag it out of the waters edge or chase it too far into the woods. Sometimes they had to work a little bit harder. Lately, though, the people out there are having a difficult time getting anything due to the amount of wolves and bears in the area.
In many areas of Alaska, there has been a growing problem with bears and wolves. I will go so far as to say that there is a growing problem with predators in Alaska, humans included. If you think about it, there is now a situation where people from outside specific hunting areas are coming in and hunting for moose. This depletes the already stressed population of moose in those areas. For instance, on the Kuskokwim River, you have an area in the upper river region that used to have a healthy population of moose. Then the lower river people from the ever growing city of Bethel come up to hunt moose and you have a higher amount of “predators” in that area. Then there are hunters that are being flown in from other parts of the state and from out of the state. Add to that the growing population of bears and wolves, and you have a problem. This same situation is affecting the caribou in that very same region.
Imagine a population of moose in a particular region that are already hampered by a growing population of wolves and bears. Now imagine this population is accessible by road. Think about how many people are reaching this region from hundreds of miles away and maybe thousands of miles away if they are non-resident hunters. I bring to light the Copper Valley region of Alaska. The people there have never had such difficulties hunting moose until recently. They are now in competition with the rest of the state and with many from out of the state of Alaska. Most of the “outside” hunters have access to ATV’s and large hunting buggies. They may have RV’s or travel trailers to sleep in. The local hunters do not have a lot of these available to them. With so many ATV’s and other traffic hitting the trails, the moose are being pushed back further and further into the wilderness, to the point that only ATV’s or fly-in hunting can reach them. They also have a huge population of bears and wolves, common predators of the moose and caribou. This leaves many locals without meat for the winter.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not against hunting. In fact, I am a strong advocate of our rights to hunt and feed our families and I support the NRA. But I am also witnessing something that I am not in support of. I do not think that our population of moose should support non-resident hunting and especially since many of those hunters are only after the “rack” and could care less about the meat! I realize that many people make their money by being a guide but that is a profession that is self-defeating. You will see such a large decline in the moose populations that there will be none left for anyone. I believe that trophy hunting should be abolished! Hunting for meat and getting a “big one” is different than just hunting for the rack on the wall and I have seen many who do that very thing.
I am seeing this same thing with our salmon. You see many folks up here fishing for that trophy and not caring about eating any salmon. I see that our commercial fisherman are fishing to earn enough money to feed their families but at the same time, they are fishing to feed the world off of fish that should merely feed Alaskans. And our world population is growing. Are we going to feed the world salmon that was meant only to feed a smaller population of Alaskans? Are we going to try to give a trophy salmon or moose to the world so that they can feel proud of themselves while Alaskans go hungry and eventually have nothing left to hunt or fish?
In the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers, there is a growing problem of the local natives not being allowed to catch salmon. How much salmon were caught by commercial fisherman? I do not know this answer. You can look into that for yourself. But know this, they were there first, they have always been there, and now they are being told that they cannot fish. This means they cannot feed their family. There are declining moose and caribou populations, and now a declining fish population. Recently, there have been battles by the locals out there for them to fight for their rights to fish. It is a bad situation all around. They do not want to see the fish decline but they want to feed their family too.
Again, let me reiterate, I am not against hunting or fishing. I am against mismanagement of such. I am seeing different regions of Alaska trying to support a growing population of hunters and fisherman. I am seeing that they cannot support this. I am seeing us trying to feed the world and we cannot do that. Lets bring to light the beloved dip-net fisheries in Alaska. We are seeing a growing outrage from those regions about the demise of their beautiful beaches and there is another problem.
Let’s look at the dip-net fishery in Kenai, AK. I grew up in Soldotna, which is the nearest town to Kenai. I remember a few dip-netters on the beach in the 80’s but I could literally count them on one hand at any given moment. I could still walk the beach and not step on a salmon carcass or be pooped on by a seagull. Now, flash forward, the beach is so encumbered by fish carcasses that it would take you half an hour to clear enough space to set your chairs and equipment down. The smell? Well, lets just not discuss the smell as I just ate breakfast.
Seagulls are everywhere, clouds of them. This is the problem. The dip-netters are gutting the fish on the beach and that attracts gulls which causes them to litter the beach with their feces. This has recently caused a problem with a bacteria on the skin of the salmon and a warning about making sure to clean them good. The people of the region are upset, and for good reason too! They have to go clean up after all the dip-netters and it’s not a fun job. Why should they have to do that? They are accommodating people from outside their region and they are suffering.
I am hoping that you are getting my point. Can I find any fish in my local area (Matsu Borough)? Maybe. Not really without a boat or other equipment. Many rivers have been closed to fishing. Have I been to other regions to try to fish or dip-net. Yes. Guilty. Do I catch much? No. I gave up dip-netting years ago after seeing its affects on the beaches and the locals. Do I have any fish in my freezer? No. I am not a great fisherman though, so that is part of my problem. But the same goes for hunting. I find it very difficult to hunt for moose because there are so many ATV’s and hunting buggies; and then there are the hunting regulations that are very confusing. I do not have a “healthy” ATV and it struggles to get very far. It’s a case of drive one mile then work on it for one or more hours, sad to say. I cannot afford a new ATV nor can I afford a hunting buggy.
I want to fish and put salmon in my freezer, but I don’t want to hamper the fishery or put another region into stress. I want to hunt and fill my freezer with meat, but I don’t want to be part of the problem for another region and cause its locals to not be able to eat. Can I hunt locally? Well, that’s a good question. I am trying and, so far, not doing so great with it. I see both sides of the story and am hoping that we can find some answers to this situation. I would like to find some sort of answer to this problem but I am only one person, and it is going to take everyone working together to communicate and understand. So let’s get to work and figure out how to feed the people of Alaska first; giving the locals a better fighting chance to provide for their families.
In the meantime, shhhhhhhhhh……….I’m hunting moosies!!!