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At a Glance

'At a Glance' offers a brief summary of key findings for each of the 13 Alaska Salmon and People regions.

Dive Deeper

Select 'Dive Deeper' for an in-depth look into the patterns and processes leading to the diversity of the 13 Alaska Salmon and People regions we see today.

At a Glance:  The importance of habitat diversity for salmon and people in the Chignik region

Despite being the smallest salmon-people region of Alaska (6,587 km²), Chignik is remarkably rich in habitat diversity–which translates into biological diversity of its salmon. The Chignik region is home to multiple dispersed communities such as Chignik Lake, Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Bay, Perryville, and Ivanof Bay.

Alutiiq/Sugpiaq names for salmon

(Names from Kodiak Island and shared affinities to Chignik; local variations are likely)
  • Alimaq (chum salmon)
  • Amartuq; Amaqaayak (pink salmon)
  • Aamasuuk; Iiliksak (king salmon)
  • Qakiiyaq (coho salmon)
  • Niklliq (sockeye salmon)

Below are key SASAP findings for the Chignik region; for the full story click on Take a Deeper Dive. 

For its small size, the Chignik Region is a wild fish factory that is supported by diverse habitat.

Abundant sockeye salmon, coho salmon, and Chinook salmon flourish in the Chignik lakes watershed and pink salmon and chum salmon thrive in countless small coastal streams.

Most of the sockeye salmon are produced in – and return to – the Chignik lakes watershed, which is comprised of two lakes: Black Lake and Chignik Lake. Most of the nearly two million adult pink salmon are born in countless small coastal streams in the region. Salmon habitats in Chignik are not only diverse, they remain connected which gives options for rearing for multiple life stages and species of salmon. For example, we now know that a substantial fraction of salmon born in the upper watershed move downstream and spend part of their life in the tidal Chignik Lagoon. The connections between habitats provides salmon with additional space for growth and the diversity of options provides a buffer for fish in the face of climate and other natural changes occurring in the system.

Diverse sizes and ages of juvenile sockeye salmon caught in Chignik Lagoon. Photo credit Peter Westley.

The Chignik region has experienced multiple changes in recent years including population decline and commercial fleet restructuring.

The population of the Chignik region has seen a 31% decline from 518 in 1990 to 362 in 2010. The Chignik commercial salmon fishery underwent a fundamental fleet restructuring with a cooperative system in place from 2002-2005.

Subsistence harvests of salmon in the Chignik area are affected by multidimensional factors, including stock abundance and run timing, weather cycles, fuel and gear costs, employment opportunities, commercial salmon prices, and access to traditional knowledge.

Fishing experiences at lodges in the region for visiting tourists are popular.

Figure 1. Population of communities in the Chignik region, 1955 – 2016. United States Census Bureau, Juliet Bachtel, John Randazzo, and Erika Gavenus. 2018. Alaskan Population Demographic Information from Decennial and American Community Survey Census Data, 1940-2016. Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. doi:10.5063/F1XW4H3V.

Salmon are a key resource for Chignik Area communities, but traditional use of fish camps has declined due to economic and regulatory changes.

From 1977-2016, the average annual subsistence harvest in the Chignik Area was 11,121 salmon (see Figure 2). Based upon comprehensive household harvest surveys, salmon provide about 46% of the total harvests of wild resources for home use by residents of this area. Most residents of Perryville and many residents of Chignik Lake traditionally moved in spring to fish camps on the north side of Chignik Lagoon. By the early 2000s, most of these camps were no longer occupied, primarily because of the closure of the Columbia Ward cannery, the imposition of use fees by land owners, and changes to management of the commercial fishery.

Figure 2. Pounds of salmon harvested in the Chignik Management Area, 1977 – 2016. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence. Subsistence and personal use harvest of salmon in Alaska, 1960-2012. Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. doi:10.5063/F18P5XTN.

Governance actions under state jurisdiction have recently addressed amounts of salmon necessary for subsistence (ANS levels), timing of commercial openings, and experimental mechanisms for distributing salmon harvests.

The Chignik area commercial salmon fishery undertook a unique experiment between 2002 and 2005. A co-op was created to allow a few designated fishermen to harvest salmon and distribute the revenue equally among the salmon permit holders participating in the co-op.

When the arrangement was legally challenged, the court determined that the Board of Fisheries lacked the authority to authorize the arrangement. Purse seine fishermen, the sole permitted fishery in the area, have been actively involved with the Board of Fisheries and the biological managers. Between 2000-2018, the Chignik area salmon fisheries were declared a disaster on two occasions.

Chignik Village,

Historically, salmon fisheries in the Chignik region have been the seventh largest in the state, generating almost $1 billion in revenue since 1975.

Even though the Chignik commercial salmon fishery is not among the largest in the state, it is one of the most stable with the third-lowest variability in year-by-year fishing revenues. All five species of Pacific salmon are harvested in the commercial fishery, with sockeye being the primary targeted and most important species in this region.

Tobias Schwoerer. Regional commercial salmon permit earnings by residency status, Alaska, 1975-2016. Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. doi:10.5063/F1WW7FZ2. 

Case Studies

The Chignik Commercial Salmon Fishing Co-op

The Chignik region has only one salmon gear type – purse seine. It also has a relatively small number of limited entry permits – fewer than 100. Over the years, local fishermen, including Alaska Natives, have maintained their ownership share relative to other residency cohorts. Over 90% of salmon earnings in the region are obtained from sockeye salmon that return primarily to Black Lake.

The Chignik purse seine fishermen undertook a unique experiment in the period from 2002-2005. The idea for a co-op was advanced to the Board of Fisheries after several years of discussion among the fishermen. A proposal was submitted to the Board of Fisheries requesting authorization of the co-op fishery with an allocated harvest “quota”, to which the board agreed. The co-op was based on the concept of assigning a limited group of vessels to harvest the salmon, with the proceeds distributed equally among the co-op participants. The objective was to increase the earnings of the permit holders.

A substantial majority of the permitted fishermen participated in the co-op, but a much smaller number chose not to and continued to fish as independents. Co-op fishermen benefited by not having to pay crew and expenses. Independent fishermen, who fished during the same openings made available to the designated co-op fishermen, paid crew and expenses. Fisheries biologists viewed the co-op experiment as providing for better control over openings and harvest levels.

This case brought into sharp focus two alternate models of the aims and responsibilities of salmon limited entry permit holders characteristic of different cohorts of fishermen. One view, sometimes referred to as “business fishing”, is that the limited entry permit is an asset to be mobilized by the holder to obtain the maximum financial returns that can be realized. Typically in such a view, the permit is used to catch and sell salmon, minimizing all the associated costs including payment of crew members in order to maximize the earnings of the permit holder.

The other view, sometimes termed “lifestyle fishing”, holds that fishing is a valued activity itself and further, the permit holder is a trustee whose use of the permit is to benefit not only himself but also others such as his family and community. Those benefits could be payments as crewman or assistants in preparing nets and other equipment for the fishing season. In the community of Perryville for example, there are four or five Chignik purse seine permit holders who, through their crew hiring practices, provide some level of support (income and subsistence salmon) to every household in Perryville.

The Board of Fisheries authorization to create the co-op was legally challenged in state court in 2005 after operating for three years. It was supported by the Chignik Seiners Association. In Grunert v. State of Alaska, plaintiffs contended that the co-op violated the State Constitution’s prohibition of the “establishment of a special right” in the fishery and the Limited Entry Act in that earnings were being realized by those not actually fishing the permit. The district court found in support of the co-op and the decision was appealed to the Supreme Court.

In 2005, the Supreme Court determined that the Board of Fisheries did not have the legal authority to create such a fishery, in that the co-op “quota” did violate the Constitution and the benefits to nonfishing permit holders violated the Limited Entry Act. The Board of Fisheries modified the authorization in light of the court decision and reauthorized the co-op, requiring all members to actually participate by making at least 10 deliveries. In 2006, however, the Supreme Court held that this modification did not address the underlying prohibition of establishment and again struck down the program. There have been no subsequent legal initiatives to make necessary changes to the Constitution to make such a program legal.


Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  2017. Estimated Harvests of Fish, Wildlife, and Wild Plant Resources by Alaska Region and Census Area, 2014.  Division of Subsistence.

Anderson, T. J., Russell, C. W., & Foster, M. B. (2013b). Chignik Management Area Salmon Annual Management Report, 2013 (Fisheries Management Report No. 13-43) (p. 94). Anchorage, Alaska: Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Dumond, D.E. 1977. The Eskimos and Aleuts. London. Thames and Hudson.

Fall, James A. et al. 2018.  Alaska Subsistence and Personal use Salmon Fisheries 2015 Annual Report.  Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence Technical Paper No. 440. Anchorage.

Gho, M. (2016). CFEC Permit Holdings and Estimates of Gross Earnings in the Chignik and Alaska Peninsula Commercial Salmon Fisheries, 1975- 2014. Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Griffiths, J. R. & Schindler, D. E. Consequences of changing climate and geomorphology for bioenergetics of juvenile sockeye salmon in a shallow Alaskan lake: Changing climate and geomorphology affect juvenile sockeye salmon bioenergetics. Ecology of Freshwater Fish 21, 349–362 (2012).

Haycox, S. 2002. Alaska: An American Colony. University of Washington Press, Seattle.

Henn, W. 1978. Archaeology of the Alaska Peninsula: The Ugashik Drainage, 1973-1975. University of Oregon Anthropological Papers, 14, Eugene.

Hutchinson-Scarbrough, L., Marchioni, M. A., & Lemons, T. (2016). Chignik Bay, Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Lake, and Perryville: an Ethnographic Study of Traditional Subsistence Salmon Harvests and Uses (Technical Paper No. 390) (p. 260). Anchorage, Alaska: Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Hutchinson-Scarbrough, Lisa and James A. Fall.  1996. An Overview of Subsistence Salmon and Other Subsistence Fisheries of the Chignik Management Area, Alaska Peninsula, Southwest Alaska.  Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence Technical Paper No. 230. Juneau.

Knapp, G. (2004). Selected Economic Effects of the Chignik Salmon Co-operative. Remarks prepared for the Alaska Board of Fish.

Knapp, G. (2007). The Chignik salmon cooperative: a case study of allocation to a voluntary self-governance organization. Anchorage, Alaska: University of Alaska, Anchorage. Retrieved:–Case_Study_of_Allocation_to_a_Voluntary_Self_Governance_Organization.pdf

Morris, Judith M.  1987. Fish and Wildlife Uses in Six Alaska Peninsula Communities:  Egegik, Chignik, Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Lake, Perryville, and Ivanof Bay.  Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence Technical Paper No. 151. Juneau.

Partnow, P.H. 2001. Making History: Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Life on the Alaska Peninsula. University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2011. Profiles of general demographic characteristics, Alaska: 2010. U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C.

Walsworth, T. E., Schindler, D. E., Griffiths, J. R. & Zimmerman, C. E. 2015. Diverse juvenile life-history behaviours contribute to the spawning stock of an anadromous fish population. Ecology of Freshwater Fish 24, 204–213.

Westley, P. A. H., Schindler, D. E., Quinn, T. P., Ruggerone, G. T. & Hilborn, R. Natural habitat change, commercial fishing, climate, and dispersal interact to restructure an Alaskan fish metacommunity. Oecologia 163, 471–484 (2010).

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