Dipping for smelt

Sunday, Nataly Meyer and McKenzie Allen joined a few village youth along the banks of the Kuskokwim River in Akiachak. A few days earlier there had been a quiet rumbling throughout the village that the smelt were coming. After church, many members of the village set out in their boats to catch smelt (a small whitefish, caught with a net that’s dipped in the water) and to continue preparing their fish camps. The camps are located throughout the delta and used as a base of operation for preparing and processing the catch of fish during the season from smelt to Chinook (King) salmon, the largest of all the salmon species. The villages of the Yup’ik rely on subsistence living. With the fishing season beginning, the village is in full response to catch enough fish to feed their families through the winter. A week before we arrived, the “break-up” occurred. The frozen river had melted enough to crack and “break-up,” letting the current push the ice down river until it is melted. During the cold season the river system is used as a highway, with the ice at least four feet thick. This year, the break-up was a little later then usual, but the village is prepared. Members of the community react to the river and their routine is built around catching the fish.

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