Kvichak Watershed Subsistence Salmon Fishery: An Ethnographic Study

How families in Iliamna, Newhalen, Nondalton, and Port Alsworth of Bristol Bay's Kvichak District make decisions about subsistence fishing, such as when to fish, where to fish, who to fish with, and how much to harvest, in response to changing sociocultural, economic, and environtnental circumstances.
salmon underwater


Research methods included:
  • Participant observation
    Study team members visited fish camps and helped to harvest and process salmon.
  • Key respondent interviews
    We interviewed community residents about fishing methods, harvest trends, and changing environmental and economic conditions.
  • Mapping
    We produced maps of general fishing locations and fish camp sites.
  • Systematic household surveys
    We conducted two rounds of surveys about salmon harvest information.
  • Case study families
    One family in each study community kept systematic records during one year of subsistence activities; records included photographs, journals, and interviews


Key findings included:
  • The subsistence salmon fishery is vital to the well-being of the local communities. It provides large quantities of healthful food, brings families together during harvesting and processing, provides context for sharing and learning, and nourishes cultural and spiritual connections to the natural environment.
  • Families' decisions about subsistence fishing are shaped by many factors, including fish run timing and abundance, weather, access to alternative resources, costs, wage employment, available labor, personal circumstances, and commitment to to a traditional way of life.
  • Factors that affect long-term trends in the fishery include the elimination of dog teams, variable salmon runs, changing community populations, a developing cash sector in the local economy, and cultural changes that may affect youth involvement in the fishery.
  • Two key features of the fishery are the social organization of subsistence fishing and processing by extended families and the extensive sharing of equipment and harvests.
  • Relying on permit returns alone likely results in an underestimate of subsistence salmon harvests at the community level. Unreported harvests occur when fishers do not obtain or return permits, or when portions of harvests that are shared are not reported.
  • State and federal regulatory actions that legalized seines for subsistence salmon fishing had a significant impact, especially for Nondalton residents. Legalization of this method reestablished opportunities not only to harvest salmon in a sustainable and efficient manner, but also to teach traditional skills and knowledge.
  • Local residents follow fishing and processing methods chat promote conservation, such as strategies to achieve (but not exceed) harvest goals and prohibitions against waste. Fostering the continuation of these self-management traditions is key to the long-term health and sustainability of both the subsistence fishery and the salmon resource of the Kvichak watershed.
Please see The Kvichak Watershed Subsistence Salmon Fishery: An Ethnographic Study, by James A. Fall, Davin Holen, Theodore M. Krieg, Robbin La Vine, Karen Stickman, Michelle Ravenmoon, Jessica Hay, and Jory Stariwat, ADF&G Division of Subsistence Technical Paper number 352.

Last updated: February 27, 2019

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