Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Program
Conserving America's Fisheries

Alaska Subsistence Fisheries

Chinook Salmon Sampling on the Kwethluk River, AK. Photo: USFWS

Chinook Salmon Sampling on the Kwethluk River, AK.


Subsistence fishing and hunting provide a large share of the food consumed in rural Alaska. The state’s rural residents harvest about 22,000 tons of wild foods each year — an average of 375 pounds per person. Fish makes up about 60 percent of this harvest. Nowhere else in the United States is there such a heavy reliance upon fish and game.

The Role of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices

nderstanding the critical importance of Alaska’s fisheries to rural residents, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act requires that natural and healthy fish populations be maintained for subsistence use. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead agency for subsistence fisheries on behalf of the Federal Subsistence Management Program. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices (FWCOs) supervise subsistence use by rural Alaskans along with the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the U.S. Forest Service. All together, the five Federal agencies manage 237 million acres of Federal lands, which encompasses 66% of Alaska’s lands and 52% of Alaska’s rivers and lakes.

In this capacity, FWCOs oversee harvest assessments and resource monitoring, conduct genetic population structure assessments, and participate in Native outreach and education. Specifically, service biologists work with rural residents to maintain sustainable harvest of salmon and ensure that subsistence needs are met.

Recent FWCO Tribal Assistance Projects Include:

  • examining the extent and pattern of genetic diversity in Yukon River Coho salmon to assist in conservation of the species and appropriate harvest management of the populations.
  • monitoring the returns of all five salmon species through weir panels installed on the Kwethluk River to ensure that adequate salmon spawn to perpetuate the runs.
  • evaluating the impact of a size selective fishery on Chinook salmon in the Kuskokwim River to estimate the heritability of adult size, growth rate, and age in wild Chinook.
Subsistence fishing on the 
Koyukuk river in Kanuti NWR. Photo: USFWS

Subsistence fishing on the


Alaska is unique among our states in the scale of its natural resources. All Americans benefit from sound management of the vast fish and wildlife resources of Alaska. Bears, eagles, and other wildlife, for example, depend on annual salmon migrations for food. Likewise, commercial harvest of Alaskan pink salmon, alone, exceeds 100 million annually. FWCOs strive to ensure healthy fish and wildlife resources which will also help sustain rural lifestyles of Native Alaskan cultures.

Last updated: April 17, 2012