Andy Bassich was interviewed on May 3, 2005 by Stacy Pare in the dog yard of Andy's home in Eagle, Alaska. This interview was conducted for the Yukon River Fisheries Study led by David Krupa for Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, and recorded on video by Cindy Gowins. In this interview, Andy talks about his subsistence lifestyle and reliance on fish, and his observations about changes in the salmon fishery, the population size, timing of the fish runs, and the size of the fish. He also shares his thoughts about fisheries management on the upper and lower Yukon River and the importance of conservation in order to preserve the fishery for the future. At the end of the video, there is footage of Andy cutting up dried fish and feeding pieces to his dog while he talks about the nutritional value of the fish.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve
Date of Interview: May 3, 2005
Narrator(s): Andy Bassich
Interviewer(s): Stacy Pare
Videographer: Cindy Gowins
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Moving to Alaska, living a subsistence lifestyle, and being involved in subsistence and fisheries management committees
Observations of change in salmon populations and river water level
Effects of environmental change on salmon spawning
Observations of change in timing of the salmon runs
Observations of change in the size of the salmon, and mixture of males, females and jacks in the population
Fishing with a net and a fishwheel, and selecting fishing site
Comments about the Yukon River fishery management and regulations
Hanging and drying fish, and sharing the harvest
Importance of fish to his subsistence lifestyle, and use of a dog team for transportation
Learning the skills of a subsistence lifestyle, and passing on the knowledge to the next generation
Importance of having the fishery and subsistence lifestyle available for future generations
Relying upon an uncertain resource, supplementing with store-bought and garden raised food, and having an income to pay for expenses
Effect of the Yukon Queen riverboat on salmon spawning and fry mortality
Canadian fishing laws versus U.S. laws
Need for conservation measures in order to preserve the salmon runs for the future, and effect upon fishing-based lifestyles and the size of the fish populations
Effect of recent fires on his home and subsistence lifestyle
Cutting up dried fish and feeding pieces to his dog team, while talking about the nutritional value to his dogs and use of commercial dog food
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STACY PARE: Um, we’re talking with Andy about the Yukon River salmon study that we’re doing. Andy, if you could start with a little background and tell me a little bit about yourself.
ANDY BASSICH: Ok, um, moved to Alaska in 1980 and then out into Eagle in 1983. And uh, basically lived subsistence or what I call semi-subsistence lifestyle since then.
Uh, spent the first 5 or 6 years out in the bush just trapping and coming into town in summers to make a living. And then uh, trapping in the wintertime. Hunting caribou, moose, and then fishing for salmon.
First year I lived here I didn’t fish for salmon. I didn’t have a boat and then uh, after getting into dogs in 1984, started fishing uh, fall chum and a little bit of king salmon.
And uh, since that time it’s evolved into a -- a major part of my lifestyle, um, both the dogs and the fishing.
And I’m currently, uh, working on the Yukon River panel as a alternate member. That‘s the uh, treaty between Alaska and Canada.
And I’m representing the uh, Eagle area on the Federal Subsistence Board through the Eastern RAC (Regional Advisory Council, and I’m also a lifetime member of YRDFA, Yukon uh, River Drainage Fishermen’s Association. And then uh, currently active with the uh, local AC (Alaska Department of Fish and Game Advisory Council), as well.
STACY PARE: You’re probably one of the most active community members, then?
ANDY BASSICH: Certainly on the policy side anyway. Um, I -- I’ve just felt like it’s -- especially since the crash in ’99, um, it was really important to have the upriver represented. There was very little representation in the upriver, uh, fishermen.
And um, I felt it was really important that uh, I get involved with that or someone from this area get involved with that to make sure our needs are met and that our views are represented when policies are being made.
STACY PARE: Hm-mm. Great. Um, one of the things that this study is focusing on is -- is the salmon runs themselves. Have you noticed, um, certain environmental impacts that have affected the runs?
ANDY BASSICH: Um, well with the knowledge that I’ve gained over the last 4 or 5 years, I think it’s -- the decline was caused by a -- a -- a great many things. I don’t think you can point your finger at one thing.
Uh, certainly the marine environment is probably the biggest driving factor. And um, the Coccolithic blooms that took place out there in the late ’90's and early 2000's were probably the biggest responsible uh, part of the decline in the salmon.
Um, weather? I’m not -- I’m not really sure that weather’s really that much of a factor.
Uh, you know, I hear a lot of talk about global warming but -- but uh, I’m not really sure what our -- our impacts with global warming are. I don’t think anybody is. There’s certainly a lot of speculation.
But at this point in time I -- I think it’s just cyclic. I think it’s something that has happened in the past and probably will continue to happen in the future regardless of what we do management-wise.
I think it’s just a natural course of salmon to -- to have strong and weak uh, decades, really. STACY PARE: Yeah. ANDY BASSICH: So.
STACY PARE: Um, how about now changes in the actual river with maybe (inaudible) or water levels?
ANDY BASSICH: Yeah, well certainly, water levels affect fishing opportunity more than anything else and that’s gonna uh, have the human impact on the salmon.
Um, which is probably the -- the biggest natural uh, if you want to call it a natural imp -- impact, on the fisheries.
Um, I think the high-water years, you know, uh, for people who fish with fish wheels, it’s um, it’s much more efficient.
Excuse me for a minute. (yells to dogs) Hey, Twister, be quiet. (Happy, panting sled dog trots up from dog yard, passes behind Andy and then off camera).
STACY PARE: Good behavior.
ANDY BASSICH: Well, Yeah. STACY PARE: Uhm.
ANDY BASSICH: Yeah, I think high -- high water is -- is gonna really impact the fishwheel fishermen. It forces the uh, king salmon and the chum salmon to the bank which makes much more efficient fishing.
For -- for that and um, it’s a little bit tougher on the net fishermen, set-net fishermen because of the debris in the river.
But often-times that’s going to be very dependent on um -- that’s going to be very dependent on the type of eddy they have. Some years ah, an eddy’s really good at high water, some years it’s going to be really poor at high water. Um, so that’s a -- that’s a pretty key factor as far as water levels go.
As far as salmon physiologically, I don’t think water levels really impact them that much.
STACY PARE: Ok ANDY BASSICH: I think it’s -- it’s more a factor of the fishing effort.
STACY PARE: How about for spawning though?
ANDY BASSICH: Well, yeah, I don’t really know enough about spawning conditions. I know if you have -- I think what affects spawning survival more than anything is your -- your snow cover and your winter temperatures.
If you have freeze-downs right down to the gravel then you’re going to lose a lot of the fry.
Excuse me, I’m going to go ahead and chain him up (referring to the loose dog). STACY PARE: That’s fine, that’s fine.
ANDY BASSICH: Back to spawning
STACY PARE: Right. Um, is there anything else you’d like to say about spawning?
ANDY BASSICH: Yeah, um, I think -- I think uh, spawning is really affected a lot by winter temperatures. And um, when you have cold years with very low snowfall and you get ice freezing down, you’re going to lose a lot of the fry.
And um, I think the other factor is some years when you have uh, really high water levels in the streams as the fry emerge, um, you may have some mortality due to the fry being flushed out of the smaller streams. But I think they’re pretty resilient.
And -- and uh, I think they fry have the ability to find other small creeks and areas where they can survive, so. It’s probably more the cold than anything.
So I don’t think global warming's going to hurt as far as fry mortality goes.
STACY PARE: Uh, how about any of the changes in the timings of the runs or what can you tell me about the runs and what times it usually starts or -- and ends?
ANDY BASSICH: It’s -- in this area around Eagle it’s been pretty consistent. Um, at -- at least the chum salmon, fall chum have.
Um, king salmon I -- I think, plus or minus a week at the beginning of July is pretty normal. And then um, yeah, I think it has to do more with just run strength.
Some years we get really strong pulses, the fish move through really quickly in one or two pulses. And then other years, we'll have long, protracted uh, runs.
And I -- I don’t know -- I haven’t really kept close enough records, but it seems to be driven by water levels. I’ve noticed on years when we’ve had low water level years, we seem to have longer, protracted runs ah, so fishing isn’t -- doesn’t have to be as concentrated in short periods of time.
High-water years I’ve noticed that fish seem to clump up and move together in -- in more defined pulses.
Ah, as far as the fall chum go, um, they’re pretty darn consistent. Ah, right around 10th through about the 18th of September is when the peak of the run is in this area.
And um, there again, some years it’s long and protracted, but most years it’s pretty consistent right around that timeframe.
STACY PARE: Ok. How about the quality of the fish that, uh, that you’ve been catching? Have you noticed a decline in the meat or, you know, the change in their health or any diseases you’ve noticed?
ANDY BASSICH: Yeah. Yeah, during that crash from uh, ’99 until -- last year we had good quality fish. Um, but yeah, there -- there definitely was a -- a decline in the quality of the fish for about 3 years there. Maybe 4.
And um, what I’m -- what I’m really concerned about more than anything is -- is I really feel that with the fishing efforts taking place on the Yukon and um, a very strong commercial harvest using drift-nets, I -- I’m really beginning to believe that we’re -- we’re fishing out the big fish.
Uh, drift-nets and large-mesh gear in my opinion target large females. And I think we’re beginning to change the genetics of the Yukon River stocks and that’s a huge concern of mine at this point in time.
I know when I first came here in -- in 1983-84, early- to mid- ‘80s, it was quite common to see a 65-pound fish come out of the river. And -- and I -- I doubt very much that there's probably more than 4 or 5 that I saw last year out of the whole Eagle area that were that big.
And I -- I think, um, one of the interesting things about this area is as far upriver as we are, we’re going to see the changes that are taking place here.
We’re going to notice those changes far before the lower river people will because they have such an abundance of uh, fish, uh, in that area that I -- I think we’re a really good area to keep an eye on as well as up into Canada, because we’re going to see these effects.
And -- and most people are saying they are seeing the effects. I think if you could talk to some of the old timers they’d -- they’d tell you.
Uh, if you could talk to ah -- to the Biederman’s and -- and uh to Nelly. You know, I’ve talked with her personally, and when she was a little girl, it was common to see 85-pound fish come out of the river. STACY PARE: Wow.
ANDY BASSICH: And we don’t -- we don’t see that here anymore. So that’s something we have to really begin to address. I think we’re -- we’re going to hurt the genetics if we don’t.
STACY PARE: Yeah, we’ve -- we’ve been hearing that. Other interviews we’ve heard that, too, about the size of the fish.
ANDY BASSICH: Yeah, it’s -- it’s -- it’s a definite factor. And it’s -- a lot of people don’t want to believe it, they don’t want to hear it, because it's gonna directly affect commercial fishermen.
And -- and that’s taking the livelihood away from those people or changing uh, the way they have to fish down there, and -- and uh, they’re already feeling economic hardship right now.
And it’s critical to them for their survival to be able to commercial fish, but boy we gotta do something or we’re gonna -- we’re gonna hurt everybody.
STACY PARE: Hm-mm. Um, have you noticed -- so you talk -- you said smaller fish, so the percentage of small jacks, is that the same to you?
ANDY BASSICH: Well, that -- there’s a lot of factors with that. Um, percentages of small jacks can be a factor that there’s greater abundance, ‘cause usually those are young fish that are coming up uh, premature.
And that can simply be an indicator that runs are increasing in the ocean. And that -- that uh, the following year or two years later we’ll have uh, good runs.
So, I’m not too concerned. In fact, it’s kinda good to see lots of jacks because that means that there’s a pretty good abundance there.
But uh, being a fishwheel fisherman, you do see more jacks than you do when you're fishing with uh, set-net and gill-net. Just because smaller fish run close to the shoreline and um, a lot of those small jacks go right on through the bigger net. So, it -- it’s normal.
I -- I have seen an increase in the last 2 years in jacks um, for king salmon. And uh, hopefully that’s a good sign.
STACY PARE: Uh-huh. What other -- you say you use a wheel, what other fish do you see in your wheel?
ANDY BASSICH: Um, well pretty much the whole gamut. Um, bottom fish we see lush or burbot. Um, pike, grayling. Um, broad whitefish. Uh, whitefish, cisco, Bering Sea Cisco.
Um, usually certain times of the year, or certainly in the fall we see more of the um, the ciscos and the whitefish. I think they’re -- they’re doing more spawning then.
I don’t see a lot of fish heavy with eggs during the king salmon season. But um, during the fall season, we’re definitely seeing more uh, especially broad whitefish with eggs and um, a lot of sheefish.
Catch a lot of sheefish with them and most of those are 24 inches, maybe 30 inches for a big one.
STACY PARE: And how about the percentage of the females to males? Do you see anything there?
ANDY BASSICH: It’s -- I -- I -- for a couple of years I kept pretty close tabs on that and that’s definitely dropped off after this crash. And that’s another huge concern of mine. I think that’s, as far as king salmon, that’s an indicator that we’re targeting the wrong fish in the fisheries.
Um, last year -- actually the last 2 years in my fishwheel, uh, very few females. Last year, I fished king salmon for uh, 3 weeks, 2 and a half weeks, and um, four females were caught in that entire time.
And I think I caught a total, with jacks and everything, right around 85-90 fish. So uh, that’s a pretty low percentage.
However, Reba fishing directly across the river from me was fishing with large-mesh gill net and a set-net and uh, probably 50% of her fish are females and large females, so that to me says gear selection or type will select different types of fish.
STACY PARE: Well that was one of the -- one of the questions that I had for you was about your um, about your equipment, um --
You already said you use the fishwheel. Do you -- do you not use a net at all?
ANDY BASSICH: I -- I use a net um, a whitefish net when I’m downriver at my -- my home downriver. Um, when I’m just looking for dog food on a daily basis.
I have a -- a 60-foot white, uh, I think it’s a 4-inch mesh um, whitefish net and it’s mainly just put in to catch uh, incidental fish.
Um, I pick up a few chum. This is usually in August when I’m doing this. So, I’ll pick up a few early chums and occasionally I’ll pick up um, kinda the stragglers of the king salmon. They’ll get tangled up in it.
But they’re not, -- they’re not -- Very often they’re not human-quality fish at that point in time.
STACY PARE: And can we ask what type of boat you use?
ANDY BASSICH: What type of boat?
STACY PARE: Hm-mm. What do you use?
ANDY BASSICH: Well I have a larger 24-foot jet boat that I use primarily for travel. But when I’m fishing I just use a little 12-foot skiff with a 35 horse on it.
STACY PARE: Ok. Um, you don’t have to tell us where um, you chose your site, but maybe how you chose your site.
If you -- you just had a hunch or did someone pass it along or -- ?
ANDY BASSICH: Um, the -- the fishwheel site that I have right now has pretty well proven over the years. It’s been -- that’s areas been fished by other people, um, early in the ‘80s, well late 70s and 80s. And -- and uh, the reason why it’s a good spot is it’s on the inside of a bend and there’s a very fast current there with a very steep bank. Which, basically just forces the fish right up against the bank there.
It’s also very loose gravel uh, on the bank there which is really good for allowing the fish wheel to dig a hole which makes it more efficient.
So, it’s uh -- the first 2 years that I fished with a fishwheel, I tried up around the Goose Island area and um, never found where the fish were running. Um, kinda struggled.
Didn’t -- didn’t have a lot of luck. I mean, I caught enough fish to feed my dogs then, but um, it wasn’t real productive.
And then I tried again farther downriver uh, in an area that looked like it would be good for fishwheel but I think the fish uh, were a little bit more spread out in the river there. They weren’t concentrated in the bend, so um, once I moved up to this area became a very efficient area.
STACY PARE: Uh-huh. Um, you touched a little bit on commercial fishing and -- and um, is there anything that you’d like to say about the overall management or any of the rules or regulations, um, in -- in ways that commercial fishing also affects um --?
ANDY BASSICH: Well, the number one -- number one best thing that -- that management and Board of Fish have done for the fish is the windows fishing schedules.
Um, and -- and I really truly believe that’s going to have the greatest impact on -- on future escapements and quality of escapement. And so I definitely encourage managers and people in the lower river to -- to continue that practice, and to --
The people in the lower river don’t like windows. Um, it really changes the way they fish and it’s -- it’s hard for them to -- their whole -- their whole dynamics of their fishery is changed dramatically since the crash.
Um, they have very limited schedules when they can fish and it’s kind of a -- kind of a Banzai fisheries where you have to -- you have to jump in your boat, go fish for 6 or 12 hours and then you’re done for, you know, 3 or 4 days or half a week or whatever.
And um, it’s really changed the way that they lived down there. But, it’s -- it’s necessary, and I think the most important thing people need to realize is that the salmon in the Yukon River are a finite resource.
And the people along the river fishing them, the numbers are growing. So everybody’s got to learn to accept the fact that they’re not going to be able to take the same volume of salmon they have in the past or that their parents or grandparents took in the past.
We -- we all have to start reducing our catches to, um, to be able to share the resource with everyone.
But managers are doing the best they can. Um, that’s a really tough fisheries to manage. It’s so -- geographically it’s so spread out, and because there are so many different mixed stocks um, spawning in different areas, um, just getting estimates on how many salmon are in the river is -- is a real crap shoot.
And it’s tough. I wouldn’t want their job. It’s a tough job. But I think they do a pretty good job with the information they have.
And there’s been a -- a real effort on, um, Fish and Game and uh, Fish and Wildlife Service to get people involved now and -- and get their opinions and try and get a little bit of technical uh, ecological um, knowledge mixed in, which I think is a smart thing to do.
I think a lot of the elders, people that had fished for their whole life, have a lot of knowledge. It’s just a matter of how to translate that into more science uh, oriented biology.
STACY PARE: Ok. Um, do you process your fish or do you -- do you hang most of them for your dogs?
ANDY BASSICH: The fall chum are split and dried, uh, for dog food. Some are hung whole, although I’m beginning to just split all of them now. I used to hang a lot whole, it saves a lot of work. But it’s better just to split and dry.
Uh, king salmon is uh, smoked and frozen or made into um, strips.
STACY PARE: Hm-mm. Uh, do you fish for just yourself and your dogs or do you uh, share --?
ANDY BASSICH: No, it’s -- it’s, there -- I give a lot of fish to people that don’t fish. Um, I spread a lot of fish around the community, you know, some of the older people in town that don’t have the ability to get out.
And, uh, so yeah, I -- I probably give away a quarter of what I catch to other people.
STACY PARE: Yeah. I think that’s one of the neat things about this community. I see a lot of that, sharing.
ANDY BASSICH: It’s -- it's actually -- I -- I was very interested to find out that um, that’s actually quite common in all subsistence fisheries. (calls out to yelping dog) Twister, quiet.
And um, Mary Pete, the Director of uh, Subsistence with Fish and Game, showed me a report, that um, basically, showed that in most communities there’s only a handful of fishermen that fish for the whole community.
So -- and -- and I never really realized that until I -- I saw that report, and then I thought about what takes place around here, out at the village and around town here. Uh, so that’s -- that’s pretty much normal.
STACY PARE: (Coughs) Excuse me. Do you, um -- how -- how important would you say that um, your -- ANDY BASSICH: (to the yelping dog) Quiet! STACY PARE: -- your fishing is to -- to your subsistence efforts? Would you say that you mainly live a subsistence life?
ANDY BASSICH: Yeah, it’s -- I -- I’d say pretty accurately that 80% of my food comes from either fish or game or waterfowl. And um, fish is probably 50% of my diet in a year.
And then um, it’s absolutely essential for dogs. As you can see, I'm kinda married to a bunch of dogs. And it’s -- it’s absolutely essential to uh, to me being able to continue to dog mush. There’s no way I could afford to feed dog food and dog -- dog food, commercial dog food is -- is poor at best at maintaining a dog team.
Dogs are meat eaters and they -- they gotta have protein. And uh, fish or any kind of red meat, they gotta have it. So, it’s essential.
STACY PARE: Yeah. Yeah. Could you talk a little bit more about your dogs. What's, um -- how -- how do they help you? How, you know, how are they a part of your life?
ANDY BASSICH: Well they’re -- you know, initially it started out as a trapping team, uh, 7 or 8 dogs. And -- and then, uh, eventually uh, decided I wanted enough dogs that other people could go with me, either trapping or for a while I got into doing tourism with the dogs.
Um, I -- I slowed down on the trapping because the -- the markets really crashed and I wanted to continue dog mushing. And so I shifted over to doing a few dog tours a year. And so the dogs paid for them -- themselves that way for the most part. Basically, it was just a shift from -- from uh, concentrating on trapping to trying to make a little bit of money uh, through tourism.
What I -- I very quickly found out is it’s -- it’s almost impossible to really make much money uh, with dogs and tourism unless you wanna have hundred-dog kennels. And um, I don’t consider that subsistence that all.
I’ve always felt that um, subsistence people, truly subsistence people, shouldn’t have more than about 15 to 18 dogs for a household. And I think that’s reasonable to be able to feed them with the resource. Once you get above that, um, it’s purely a commercial venture.
And I -- I -- I just have personal views against it, myself, so -- I don’t see anything wrong with it for other people if that’s what they choose to do. But I --
When stocks are low in the fisheries, um, people have to be very conservative on their take of fish. And, in fact, during -- from about 1996 until just last year, I spend a lot of time organizing, um -- bringing fish in from other areas to supplement dogs in this area so that we wouldn’t impact the fisheries as hard and uh, help -- Just trying to help with the rebuilding effort, and uh, I hope the stocks continue to keep building so we don’t have to do that anymore. Because that -- that really changes your whole subsistence way of living.
And a big part of what subsistence is all about is taking care of yourself and using the resources that are out there. And -- and getting fish from somewhere else, or having to buy it or whatever, it’s -- it’s not the lifestyle and that’s not why I live up here. But I -- I -- I think it was important to do it for 4 or 5 years, so --
STACY PARE: Yeah. Uh, do you use your dogs for -- for um, more of your transportation than you would a vehicle or a snow machine?
ANDY BASSICH: Oh yeah, 80 -- 80 to 90% in the winter. I do have a snowmachine that I use sometimes, just for transporting, you know, or getting firewood from time to time. Or jobs when I have to do repetitive work, I’ll use the snowmachine, but the dogs are --
I don’t -- I don’t use any vehicle in the wintertime. Uh, dogs are primarily my transportation in the wintertime. So they haul wood, they haul water.
Uh, I do do a -- a small amount of trapping so they’re my transportation in trapping. And uh, having a home outside of Eagle, they’re my transportation between my Eagle home and my more remote place.
STACY PARE: Ok. Um, who taught you? Is this -- was this learned? I mean, who taught you how to --? ANDY BASSICH: Dog mushing?
STACY PARE: How to dog mush or about fishing or --? Was there anybody that was particularly influential in -- in helping you with a subsistence lifestyle?
ANDY BASSICH: I don’t know that I could say one particular person or couple of people, but when I first came to Eagle, there was quite a few people that had dog teams. There were more subsistence trappers. That was kinda how everybody got around. Not a lot of snowmachines then.
And um, so you just learn by -- by doing, you know. You get a couple dogs and you -- you start out with 3 or 4. And once you get a couple dogs and you realize how much it costs to feed ‘em dog food, then you learn to fish. And I think it just kind of evolved.
But I -- I tell people when they first come here now, the best thing to do is to -- to go out and try something and then talk to people who do it. Get an idea of how they do it and then modify it to make it work for you. ‘Cause everybody does things different.
You -- every person around here, um, the Halls, Sagers, everyone, they -- we all do the same thing but we all do it differently. And we just have -- everybody just has to find what works for them. STACY PARE: Uh-huh.
ANDY BASSICH: Uh, you make a lot of mistakes, that’s all. Just screw up a lot and you learn, so --
STACY PARE: Are you able to pass down any of your skills to -- to anyone? Do you have uh --?
ANDY BASSICH: Well, yeah, I mean, a lot of people come and talk to me about fishing with fishwheels or --or running dogs or whatever. And certainly, you, you know, you pass on what information you have.
But I -- there again, I just tell them, “Well, this is what works for me. Try it, modify it, move on, you know.” It's -- everybody’s got their own skill levels and everybody’s got their own desire of how much energy they want to put into it. And some of it takes a lot of energy, and uh, so it just depends on how dedicated you are to it, you know. STACY PARE: Yeah.
ANDY BASSICH: It’s sounds nice to go catch 1,000 or 2,000 fish, but to go out and dedicate that kind of time and burn that kind of calories to go do it, a lot of people don’t want to do it more than 1 year, you know. They realize it’s a lot of work.
STACY PARE: Now, I’ve seen Hannah down there with you. How is -- um, is it work to her or is it -- is it um, is it fun? Is it, “Come on, let’s go cut” and she’s like happy about it or is it --?
ANDY BASSICH: Yeah! Yeah. No, we try and keep that fun. You know, the um, the -- the summer fisheries for king salmon is always fun because it’s not the volume. And so you go and you -- you know, we'll catch 10 or 20 fish a day.
And I’m pretty efficient at cutting, and she’s learning. And so we can deal with them in 2, 3 hours at the most, you know.
And so, yeah, we make it fun. We take breaks, and we throw rocks. And, you know, we both like to -- to look for rocks along the riverbank and -- and uh, so yeah, we make it fun. She likes it.
STACY PARE: She’s a cool young lady. How old is she? ANDY BASSICH: She’s 11 now. STACY PARE: Eleven.
ANDY BASSICH: Yeah. The fall -- the fall fisheries is a little bit different, you know. Fall chum, it’s -- it’s a lot of volume, it’s a lot of heavy lifting. Uh, pretty slimy, gross work at times. So she’s not quite as into that, but she helps where she can. STACY PARE: Yeah.
ANDY BASSICH: Um, she’s good at getting 'em out of the wheel and into the boat. Uh, it’s a little bit too much work for her to lift racks of fish up and that sort of thing, but even just getting rid of buckets or eggs or --
A big part of her job is hanging the fish eggs up for drying. And uh, so that’s a big help to me, too. It’s very time-consuming work, so -- STACY PARE: Yeah. Cool.
ANDY BASSICH: Yeah, she likes it. I think it’s really important for kids to -- to get out there and -- and be exposed to this, uh. They learn this at a young age and it’s a skill they’ll always have.
And, you know, any -- anything that young people can do to learn how to take care of themselves is -- is crucial, in my opinion, to living out here. Whether it be a chainsaw or a snowmachine or a dogteam or whatever. You know, it’s all -- they’re all skills that you can use in other aspects of life, you know.
STACY PARE: Hannah, at one point, she was over um, playing with my boys. And they were all talking about, you know, what -- what they’re going to do when they grow up and where they’re going to be.
Um, you know, and my kids were saying certain places that they want to go and see and Hannah stepped up and she says, “I’m going to be right here in Eagle.”
ANDY BASSICH: Well, that could very well be. And -- and that’s why it’s really important to have these fisheries available. I think that’s one of the main reasons why I’m as involved in -- in the fisheries as I am, is I -- I -- Not only for myself but I -- I want to make sure that it’s there for her and her kids.
That’s really important. This -- this way of life, subsistence living, is -- is getting harder and harder. There’s more and more government uh, regulations, there’s more tightening of lands. Uh, subsistence living is -- is a hard thing to do even when you’re not encumbered with that sort of, uh, restrictions, and --
The only thing that people that live subsistence want is they want access to a resource. They want reasonable access. And as long as that’s there, people who choose to live subsistence will always be able to do it. But if the resource isn’t taken care of and if it’s not available to them, then subsistence goes down the tube.
And what I mean by available doesn’t mean, you -- you -- you can’t -- You can’t restrict them to a point to where you say, “You get this day and that day to go do it.” Because subsistence living doesn’t work that way.
You -- you harvest fish when the weather’s right, you harvest meat when the weather’s right. You can’t put a date on it, and that’s -- that’s a really difficult thing for managers to understand.
And -- and the other thing that’s really difficult for managers is that they don’t live the lifestyle. They don’t -- they don’t understand that we don’t work on a clock, you know. And we don’t even really work on a daily or weekly calendar. It’s -- it’s more of a monthly or seasonal calendar, and --
Um, I don’t think there’s any way really around that, but they need to keep it in -- in -- you know, in mind when they’re -- when they’re enforcing things.
STACY PARE: Well, maybe by projects like this, although it’s not geared towards, um, you know, changing laws, but it’s putting the information out there and -- and uh, and opening people’s eyes I guess, you could say? ANDY BASSICH: Yeah.
STACY PARE: And so maybe this is, you know, one of those things. The more people who could come out and see how you live or how um, people like you live, you know, the better I think for them.
ANDY BASSICH: Well it’s all about information. It’s all about communication and information and so --
STACY PARE: And there literally has been no, um -- ANDY BASSICH: (to barking dog) Shhh. STACY PARE: -- there’s no history written.
You know, there’s -- there's no documentation on -- on subsistence living, really around -- you know, especially around Eagle. They -- you know, try to find -- it’s -- it’s all up here in everybody’s heads, so that’s why we’re going around and talking to people, so --
ANDY BASSICH: Yeah, there’s been a lot done down on the lower river. And, I -- I believe uh, Dave Anderson came through and did some -- some uh, some reporting and some surveying uh, back around ’99 or so. Uh, and he’s with Fish and Game, or was with Fish and Game. So I know they have done a little bit up in this area, but nothing real in depth. STACY PARE: Hm-mm.
ANDY BASSICH: And it’s too bad it wasn’t done 20 years ago, because there’s an awful lot of knowledge prior to when I came and most of the people around here came that would have been really important to -- to get down. STACY PARE: Hm-mm.
ANDY BASSICH: But um. And I -- I think even as much as people live subsistence around here, it’s nothing like it was 50 years ago. Uh, 50 years ago, there -- there was no outside help, you know. You -- you got what you got and that was it. There was no outside assistance and there certainly weren’t as many regulations and such.
But I certainly understand the need for the regulations. They just need to be done in such as manner that -- that they make sense. And that they’re good for the resource, but they have to also be good for the subsistence user.
STACY PARE: Right. How do you cope with the uncertainty from year to year about your salmon harvest? How do you --?
ANDY BASSICH: Well, uh, in some ways I’m fortunate in that I’m involved enough that I have a pretty good idea of what’s potentially going to come, but um, as I said earlier, you know, the years where it's -- they just haven’t come back we’ve had to scramble. And try and find other -- other means.
And uh, puts a lot of stress in your se -- in your uh, fall season. You know, you’re hunting, you're trying to get ready for winter, you're getting geared up for moving to remote areas and -- and, you know, you gotta feed those dogs and if you don’t get it --
You know, salmon and -- and a lot of the resources up here, they’re here at a given time, and if you don’t get 'em, you do without for another year. And that -- boy that kills you, you know, especially when you’re feeding a bunch of dogs. If you don’t get 'em, you gotta -- you know, seriously, you gotta look at reducing dog numbers and that’s -- that’s never, you know, something that you feel good about doing.
So, um, yeah, the uncertainty is the worst thing, you know. That’s -- that’s the hardest thing to deal with.
STACY PARE: Now, do you um -- how many -- do you go to town often to buy groceries? I say to town, but like to Fairbanks or Anchorage or --?
ANDY BASSICH: Twice a year, maybe. STACY PARE: Hm-mm. ANDY BASSICH: Yeah. Once in the spring, once in the fall. That’s usually it.
STACY PARE: So store-bought food's obviously is not a big --
ANDY BASSICH: No, no it’s -- I grow a big garden, I preserve a lot of those foods and, you know, I haven’t figured out how to grow nacho chips yet. Darn it!
STACY PARE: You can fry your own though!
ANDY BASSICH: Yeah. Yeah, right. Yeah, but we can’t grow corn here.
STACY PARE: I’m trying this year. I’ve got a huge crop of corn I’m going to start, so we’ll so how that goes. I’ll let you know.
ANDY BASSICH: No, yeah, I -- I, like I say, I -- you know, probably 80% of my diet. You know, you still have to buy rice, you still have to -- you know, and I -- and I eat good quality foods. I’m not a big junk food eater, so that just keeps your cost of living down a lot.
STACY PARE: Hm-mm. How about your cost of your gear? You obviously have a lot of, you know, gear here with the dogs and --
ANDY BASSICH: Yeah, you know, it adds up. But uh, I make sle -- my own sleds and everything, so. You know, I usually haven’t -- probably about a $1,000 worth of gear every year I need to either replace or redo.
But, I -- I usually try and do at one tour a year, as a minimum, and that usually pays for my costs. And then it’s just uh, how much energy I want to put into doing another tour or more tours. And then you began to defray some of your feeding costs, and --
It’s a lifestyle. I -- I don’t really care about the money. For me. It’s all about living the lifestyle for me, so -- If I make money at it, fine. If I don’t, as long as I can defray -- help defray costs, I’m happy with that.
And I’m fortunate I have, you know, steady work in the summertime. Uh, I’m pretty fortunate living here to have steady work, and so -- Uh, that takes the load off a little bit. Some other people have to scramble a little bit more come fall time.
STACY PARE: Do you mind telling us where -- where you work?
ANDY BASSICH: Uh, I work on the Yukon River, on the tour boat and operate uh, as a relief captain on the boat. I’ve been doing that for 17 years now. So, uh, it makes for a small but comfortable living.
STACY PARE: There has been some complaints um, regarding the -- the Yukon Queen. Do you have anything to comment?
ANDY BASSICH: Uh, regarding fish? Fish, you mean? Oh, there are lots of people that feel that there are strandings and it’s killing fry. Um, I’ve watched it pretty closely, and um, I’m sure that there are some fry that are stranded in low water conditions, but, um, I don’t see it as being a, a factor.
Uh, there’s so many other major factors that really involve them. We’re only looking at a 100 miles on the Yukon River. And there’s really only two strong potentially rearing-areas for salmon in that 100 miles. Um, like I say, it’s mostly low water conditions where you see strandings. Um, I think it’s negligible.
Uh, and I’m -- I’m pretty conservative when it comes to the fish. I’m -- I’m pretty strong in advocating for conservation of fish and I -- I really feel like if it was an effect on 'em, um, I’d be really speaking up against it.
Uh, like a say, it’s a job for me. If I have it, fine. No, I -- I really feel like if I -- if I felt it was harming them, uh, I’d -- I’d be speaking up against it, and uh, probably on a different side of the issue there. But I’ve watched it very closely and I just don’t see it as a big impact.
I think it’s just a, you know, a big company that’s being targeted by certain individuals who just don’t like it. And um, they’ve done a good job of what I call “coffee talk.” They sit around in bars and coffee shops and talk about things and they’re very uninformed and very few of them really understand the science of the hydrology of the river. And certainly, very few of them under -- don’t understand the -- the biology of fish.
And so I don’t -- I think if they were better educated they’d probably have a little different view on it. And there’s an awful lot of people that never even witnessed it or ridden on the boat or anything that still are adamantly opposed to it 'cause the other people are. So, it’s -- it’s something to look out.
I think it’s something that -- In many of the meetings and in with the Yukon River Panel, uh, I’ve advocated that studies be done to look at it, because I -- I think it’s -- it’s something that needs to be looked at.
And there is money being spent looking at it now. Um, there are studies that are going to be -- that have been done and there are -- going to continue to be done, so uh -- And I think that’s -- that’s reasonable. That's the way it should be done. Nobody should get a free ticket. But um, I really don’t think that they’re going to find any major impacts.
STACY PARE: Well thank you for commenting on -- on that anyway. ANDY BASSICH: Yep.
STACY PARE: Um, do you know much about the Canadian laws? Do you have anything to comment on -- on Canadian laws and their fishing?
ANDY BASSICH: They're much more conservative. Um, unless you’re an aboriginal fisherman there, which is equivalent to our subsistence, um, boy, I’ll tell you they -- to be a white person over there and try and make a living, or live subsistence on the -- and depend on the fisheries, you’re going to work pretty hard at it. It’s -- they're very, very uh, conservation oriented there.
And um, it’s a much more structured system over there. Uh, much more government control. And also the people have a tendency, being much more socialistic, so they -- they just accept that kind of uh, regulations uh, more than Alaskans do.
Alaskans are a little bit more wild cats when it comes to regulations and fish and game and taking of fish and game. Canadians are much more uh, tow-the-line to whatever the government says. Which is -- is good for the resource. Uh, it’s much harder for the people though.
STACY PARE: Ok. Um, is there anything that -- that we’ve missed or any stories that you have for us or anything to add at all?
ANDY BASSICH: No, I -- I think the main thing that needs to come out of this is that -- the most important thing to me is that fish are getting smaller. Um, we really need to address that.
It’s going to be a difficult issue to address uh, because it impacts a lot of people potentially economically. But, we’re going to be fools if we don’t, 'cause we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot right now in my opinion.
And um -- and just the simple fact that, as I said earlier, it's a finite fishery. We can’t -- we can’t keep treating it like an infinite source of fish. And the people in the lower river are beginning to understand that now.
Um, it’s difficult when you live in a place where you see nothing but millions of fish go by. And then people tell you that there aren’t any getting to the spawning grounds. That’s really hard for those people to comprehend, as it would be me.
But, uh, we’re beginning to expose those people to that, and -- and uh, I think it’s -- we’re on the right track. Uh, but we gotta a lot of work to do still. A lot of work to do.
And it’s -- You know, when the fisheries start coming back now, people that were fishing commercial are gonna want to get right back to where they were in the '80s when it was -- it was just gangbusters for fishing.
And -- and we have to really be careful that we don’t allow that to happen until we know that we’re in a good regime. When the fish are in a good regime, and they’re strong and they’re going to continue to be strong. And that’s going to depend, a big part, on what happens out in the ocean.
Um, and what happens with commercial fisheries out in the high seas. The by-catch of salmon is another issue that’s being looked at very closely and needs some serious regulations ‘cause they have a very strong impact on our fisheries up here.
So, um, but no, I -- I, you know, all and all, I’m glad to see we pulled out of the slump, uh, that we were in for about 5 years. 'Cause I gotta say, I was scared. I was really scared. And a lot of people were.
Um, I don’t think we’re out of the woods, but -- but we’re on the right track anyway.
STACY PARE: Is the number um, increasing? The numbers of fish?
ANDY BASSICH: Yeah, they are, but we’re still below our 10-year averages. Last year everybody around here said, “Oh, we had a good fishing season. The fish look good.” Well, I fished early in the year and the fish looked like crap. And towards the end of my fishing, uh, they were getting better.
But um, everybody said, “Oh, they caught lots of fish and they looked good.” But when I looked at all the numbers, we were still well below the 10-year average.
So, to me that’s just saying that it’s been so poor that the people are just happy to get out there and catch some fish again. STACY PARE: Yeah.
ANDY BASSICH: And it’s nothing like it was 20 years ago. So, we’re not out of the woods. People have short memories when it comes to that, you know.
STACY PARE: And how did last year’s fire affect your season?
ANDY BASSICH: It actually helped me. I didn’t have to work. So it allowed me to uh, to fish longer and to actually put up more strips and things like that.
Most years I have, maybe 4 or 5 days off, and that’s pretty tough to cut strips and take of them when you’re working, so it -- it -- it actually helped me.
I wasn’t worried about the fires. I figured if -- if the fires came into Eagle there was nothing -- If it got that far, there was nothing they were going to do, so I just went out and fished and uh, I wasn’t too worried about it. It didn’t bother me.
STACY PARE: Well, that’s good. Um, well that’s all that I have for you. Thank you for your time. ANDY BASSICH: Yep. STACY PARE: We certainly appreciate you -- you for sharing.
ANDY BASSICH: No problem. STACY PARE: So, thank you. ANDY BASSICH: Hm-hm. (Andy Bassich showing his dried fish, cutting fish and feeding them to his dogs in the dog yard)
ANDY BASSICH: There's a whitefish (holding up a fish). This is pretty common to what you catch in the fall time.
And these are fall chum (holding up dried, split fish). (Andy Bassich chopping dried, split chum salmon into pieces with an ax to feed to his dogs)
They always get tough to cut this year. CINDY GOWINS: A little soft? ANDY BASSICH: Well, they're -- CINDY GOWINS: They're dry. ANDY BASSICH: Their skins get so hard that you can cut through the flesh side real easy, but it's hard to get through the skin.
CINDY GOWINS: Do your dogs eat this every day?
ANDY BASSICH: Yep. Yeah, normally in the summer -- or in the winter they get half a fish each, every day. But this time of the year, they just get like a quarter of a fish and then some commercial dog food to get the water into 'em. CINDY GOWINS: Hm-mm.
ANDY BASSICH: They -- they get fat pretty quick this time of year if you were to give 'em a bunch of fish for food. I don’t like them to get too fat in the summer time ‘cause you just have to take it all off in the fall time again.
CINDY GOWINS: Do you cook for 'em, too? With the rice and the --?
ANDY BASSICH: Well, in the fall time. And king salmon, you know, all my -- my guts and heads from king salmon go to the dogs. Or they go in the garden if I’m overwhelmed. But I’m usually not too overwhelmed. It usually works out about right.
The heads are really rich and so it doesn’t take much. One -- one king salmon head per dog per day would be more than they could eat, so -- (filling bucket with pieces of the dried fish he's chopped up)
Sure doesn't look like much. When you see these fish when they come out of the river and they're big and fat, and round, it looks like a good meal. And then by the end of the winter, it's all nice and dried, and you get something that looks like a potato chip, you know. (holding up a piece of dried fish) And that's -- that's a quarter of a chum salmon. In the falltime, that would be three times that size.
CINDY GOWINS: So do they need extra water when they eat that dry fish?
ANDY BASSICH: Uh, well, they -- you know, they get -- they get commercial dog food and a lot of water. Um, so --
CINDY GOWINS: Kinda like hydrating it? ANDY BASSICH: Yeah CINDY GOWINS: In their gut? ANDY BASSICH: In the belly.
STACY PARE: Do you -- do you soak your commercial dog food?
ANDY BASSICH: I do. But I don’t like it to be soaked real heavy. Because then the dogs, it passes through them. They -- they metabolize it too quick and they don’t get as much out of it.
So I -- I just soak it in cold water. I find if you do it in hot water, they get diarrhea. STACY PARE: Yeah.
ANDY BASSICH: If you do it in cold water and soak it for like an hour, hour and a half, then -- then uh, it makes it a lot easier to clean the dog lot. ANDY BASSICH: Uh-huh. Yeah. (Dogs barking while Andy feeds his dogs in the dog yard by giving them the pieces of dried chum salmon)
STACY PARE: (referring to the dogs) Oh, that one got a bonus. He got the tail.
That's a pretty one right there. CINDY GOWINS: Yeah.
ANDY BASSICH: (to the dogs) I didn't forget you, Blizzard.
STACY PARE: Do you have a favorite? Or a couple favorites?
ANDY BASSICH: Uh, I don't -- No, it's -- it's probably more that you have least favorites. Ones that don't work as hard. But uh, no, they're all my buddies.
Some have better personalities as far as just being with the people. STACY PARE: Uh-huh. ANDY BASSICH: And then some are just a little more stand-offish and stuff, and so, you know, you just --
All these guys, if you turn 'em loose, uh, you know, they just run around. Some will come over and want to hang out with you, and others, they don't want the time of day.