Cup’ik: cuuyaraq; Yup’ik: yuuyaraq: Way of life as a human being, including interactions with others, subsistence knowledge, environmental knowledge and understanding, and spiritual balance.

International organizations, nations, and specific regions and communities increasingly recognize well-being as an integral goal of sustainable development. Scientists identify well-being as central to effective management of fisheries and marine ecosystems.

This project builds on these efforts and provides a path forward in defining and incorporating well-being measures into salmon governance and decision-making arenas. We developed objective, subjective, and relational indicators to better identify what promotes and what threatens well-being in Alaska’s diverse salmon systems.

We especially considered well-being concepts inclusive of Indigenous people’s priorities and perspectives.

Photo: Phillip and Alice Noes family fish camp on the Kuskokwim River, courtesy of Mary Peltola

Key domains of well-being

Our project team identified nine domains of well-being in Alaska’s salmon and people systems. Scroll over the painting by artist Zack Martin, from the Ahtna region, to explore these domains. Domains are further divided into specific attributes and indicators. While organized as distinct categories, many domains are interdependent, and influence or overlap with others. For example, social relationships can influence health and safety; education and knowledge can influence economy and livelihoods, and so on. The SWIMM project, carried out along the US West Coast, provided a foundational starting point for our work.

Freedom & Agency


Independence, agency, freedom from social or governmental constraints; ability to make meaningful decisions, includes groups’ ability to enact their own healing


Tribal or local sovereignty; self governance (see also Resource Management)


Having a voice in decision-making

Political Dimensions of Resource Access

Ability to raise issues before decision-makers; influence, power, local control, political representation; voice and participation in management

Economy & Livelihood

Material Wealth & Security

Resources consumed, possessions, costs and affordability, cost of living, basic needs, poverty, debt, access to credit, material security, assets and consumption

Economic Dimensions of Resource Access

Access to credit and capital needed to invest in gear, permits, etc. required for obtaining resource; labor needed to harvest resource; market value of resource and access rights

Local & Informal Economies

Production of and participation in food acquisition through subsistence, personal use, recreational takes, and commercial home pack – broken out by demographic categories; total harvest levels and exchange; fish/farmers markets, local producers and consumers; gifting, sharing, bartering, trading; value, volumes and percentages of reciprocal and in-kind transactions; sharing networks

Employment and Income

Jobs, wages and income (overall and by sector and social and demographic variables); sector diversity within a population; unemployment and labor force participation; (see ‘Job Satisfaction’ for other employment characteristics)

Job Satisfaction and Quality

Job duration; employment options; living wage level; benefits; flexibility; job and work satisfaction

Subsistence and Traditional Fishing and Hunting Livelihoods

Participation in traditional hunting and fishing practices, activities, and ways of life, including harvesting, processing, storing, giving/receiving and consumption of subsistence resources; satisfaction with traditional hunting and fishing livelihood opportunities, activities and outcomes; perception and ability to respond to change and uncertainty of traditional lifeways

Commercial Fishing Livelihoods

Participation in commercial fishing activities and practices, including harvesting, processing, marketing, etc. of commercial fishery resources; change in local fishery participation broken out by demographic and social variables; community employment opportunity; mixed livelihoods that include commercial fishing; financial reinvestments in local community; livelihood satisfaction

Recreation & Tourism

Participation in recreational fishing practices and activities, including harvesting and guiding; recreation and tourism assets and opportunities

Time for Fulfilling Activities

Amount of leisure time; time spent working, commuting, volunteering, recreating, subsistence, etc.; work-life balance

Food Security

Cost of food, food and water access, includes access to traditional foods, agricultural and fisheries harvests; abundance, quality; food security and sovereignty; maintenance of sharing networks; emergency preparedness

Industry & Commerce

Commercial and industrial fisheries production, trade and revenue; GDP, investment, general economic activity, business and industry sector characteristics, commercial resource harvests and extraction


Environmental Health & Quality

Quality or condition of natural environment and resources; ecosystem health, integrity, productivity; water and soil quality; invasive species, habitat degradation; restored habitats; quantity and geographic distribution of marine resources

Ecological Dimensions of Resource Access

Attributes of a resource that make it available and desirable to potential users, such as resource characteristics (size, maturity, abundance), condition (safe to eat), geographic distribution; environmental conditions that affect access to resources or foster resource availability (e.g. water quality, levels, etc.)


Human built environment; roads, ports, housing and transit; communications and technology infrastructure; community and municipal planning and development, urban sprawl

Physical dimensions of resource access: physical infrastructure that affects resource access (e.g. roads, barriers, dams, harbors, ports, boat ramps, public shoreline, etc.)

Pollution & Waste

Anthropogenic pollution; biotoxin, marine debris; environmental well-being

Beauty & Inspiration

Aesthetic value, creativity and gratitude inspired by nature

Social Relationships

Family and Community Connections

Family, personal relationships, joint family endeavors, community support and relationships, marriage and divorce, community spaces

Social Dimensions of Resource Access

Social context, identity and networks of the resource user that enable, confer or deny rights of access, e.g. ethnicity, kinship, group membership

Generational Continuity

Ancestry, lineage identity, generational solidarity

Community Size, Composition & Diversity

Demographic characteristics including population size, density, race/ethnicity, immigration/emigration, age and gender distribution

Non-human social relationships

World-views, values and belief systems governing relationships with non-human life, including plants and animals, land and water

Social integrity

Social fabric and trust in people, trust in neighbors, inter-group relations, sense of community

Health & Safety

Emotional and Mental Health

Emotional well-being and perceived quality of life; happiness, attitude, trust, subjective well-being; mental health, depression, suicide rates, etc.

Physical Health

Health conditions; access to healthcare; nutrition, disease, injuries, life expectancy, birth and death rates, mortality and moribundity; healthy food and lifestyle; healthy choices; health advisories; perceptions of health

Spiritual Health

Participation in spiritual practices, ceremonies and religion without risk of persecution or perceived persecution; maintenance of community, family, ancestral and human/non-human relationships and connectedness; transgenerational and historical traumas

Disaster Preparedness

Cost and preparedness for large-scale environmental disasters; preparedness for oil spills, tsunamis, climate change, severe weather; density in hazard zones, communications infrastructure; number of events; life and value lost

Physical Safety

Safety at work and home; occupational risks and emergency services, building codes, injuries

Peace & Security

Presence, absence and prevention of violence; crime, non-compliance, emergency services, sense of personal safety, acts of violence, refugees including environmental refugees

Education & Knowledge

Education & Information

Possession and transmission of knowledge, information and skills

Cognitive & Cultural Dimensions of Resource Access

Knowledge required to identify, locate, harvest and process resource; values and ethics about which resources to harvest and quantities

Local & Traditional Knowledge

Embedded systems of knowledge within place-based and cultural traditions and experience; knowledge, values, ways of thinking across systems and beliefs actively passed down through generations

Institutions & Infrastructure

Educational institutions and outcomes, includes public/private schools, trade schools, apprenticeships; school enrollment, graduation and dropout rates; education levels

Research & Technology

Production of new tools and data; ability to produce/contribute new knowledge; access to technology

Technical Dimensions of Resource Access

The technical skills, equipment, etc. required to harvest resources, such as fishing gear, location devices, boats

Culture, Place & Identity

Cultural Values & Practices

Culture, language, and the arts; languages spoken; cultural sites; cultural practices and values; meaning of practices; environmental ethos and values; community and cultural events

Generational Connections to Place and Culture

Multi-generational connections and interactions with place, environment and natural resources; archeological and historic sites; cultural resources; acceptable historical change

Place Attachments & Sense of Place

Meaning and identity connected to place; activities on the landscape, heritage, social and emotional connections to places and lands/waters

Religion, Spirituality & World-Views

Sense of spirituality; belief systems; rituals and ceremonies; ways in which cosmologies, ideologies, and everyday practices shape relationships to and ways of being with and thinking about the environment, humans, ancestors, and non-human beings

Stewardship & Values

Active conservation and sustainability practices, includes protected areas, restoration, recycling, etc.; taking care of land and water; environmental ethos, conservation ethic, human-nature relationships


Sense of self or community; individual, household, and symbolic sense of relationships; self-definition (individually and in relation to community); sense of connection to labor, environment and cultural practices

Management & Governance

Resource Management

Governmental management of natural resources, including governing institutions, self-governance and tribal or local sovereignty; perceptions and effectiveness of management; capacity for achieving management objectives

Legal Dimensions of Resource Access

Laws, policies, rules (customary or de jure), permits, quota, regulation, etc. that govern access to resources

General Governance

Principles and practices of effective governance, includes western and tribal governance; public debt, taxes, expenditures; inter-agency coordination; transparency

Civic Participation

Community volunteering, regulatory meeting attendance, service (boards, government, committees, etc.)

Explore: Mouse over image to explore well-being domains. Tap highlighted areas to explore well-being domains.

Freedom & Agency
Economy & Livelihood
Health & Safety
Education & Knowledge
Culture, Place & Identity
Management & Governance

Exploring well-being

Access to salmon ensures access to well-being

Resource access cuts across six of the nine well-being domains, such that there are economic, ecological, physical, social, legal, political, technical, cultural, and cognitive dimensions of resource access. But resource access is also a foundational prerequisite to well-being. It is critical that decision makers are able to more fully account for the many ways changes in fishery access and participation affects well-being.

“How can we instill values in the next generation when we only have one 12-hour opening?”

Photo: Community Mural in Dillingham, AK. Photo by Rachel Donkersloot.

What are the social and cultural contributions of salmon?

Salmon are a central facet of social relationships, roles, and responsibilities within and between families and communities. Salmon contribute to multigenerational connections to culture and place. The development and transmission of skills, knowledge and values–practical, political, and place-based–occur through salmon-people connections. Salmon help teach people gratitude, hard work, humility, and stewardship, among other qualities. Many Alaska Native people have a deep spiritual connection to salmon and engaging in fishing for salmon is vital to practicing their traditional Alaska Native values and ancestral knowledge.

“A day usually begins about 4 a.m. and goes to the setting sun. For a short-season occupation, one lives as no one else can.”  Wilson Justin

Photo: Fall chum in Eagle, Alaska. By Danielle Ringer.

Defining Well-Being:

Building on earlier efforts our diverse team developed a definition of well-being that intentionally seeks to be appropriate for all of Alaska’s diverse and complex salmon fisheries, communities, and peoples.

Our definition emphasizes equity and self-determination and makes clear that there are multiple domains of well-being.


What We've Learned

Sample Indicators, Super Indicators

Our team identified and evaluated over 250 indicators. We found that even among our highest-ranked indicators, few indicators were universally applicable across Alaska. And our working group members also had varied opinions about what domains and indicators should be prioritized for study and assessment. We, therefore, identified suitable sample indicators that communities can refine to be more locally relevant. We also identified super indicators that measure multiple domains, like “change in median age of fishermen” (see graph), or “change in the number of fish camps,” which crosscuts domains of social relationships, environment, economy, and governance.

Our team also created maps and data sets to show the relationship between community characteristics and resource access and use trends.

White dots indicate places where the median age of permit holders hasn’t changed since 1980. Blue dotes indicate where the medium age is getting older, and red dots indicate where it’s getting younger.

Data Gaps and Limitations

Where are the gaps and limitations in data availability for the many domains and indicators?

Our work exposes large gaps in data availability for many domains and indicators. Many high-priority indicators have not been consistently measured, and where data is regularly collected, such as age of permit holders, it is sometimes not taken into account in management decisions.

Another example of data limitations is the Amount Necessary for Subsistence (ANS). ANS is identified as a good measure for whether subsistence needs are being met; however, our case study of the upper Copper River shows that ANS data is not regularly reviewed, is not being met and, when it is, is often due to increasing pressure from non-local harvesters. This raises questions about the utility of ANS as a measure that can adequately assess subsistence needs in places like the upper Copper River.

Utility and Ethics of Measuring Well-Being

How can we support decision makers who continue to struggle to incorporate social and qualitative data into decision-making processes?

Indicators present a potential solution but it is easy to tell the wrong story when relying on simple measures without appropriate context or cultural grounding.

An understanding of how people define their own well-being should be the first step in attempts to develop and apply indicators, with communities engaged from the onset in processes of indicator development and selection. We present our work here with a note of caution where direct community involvement and evaluation is most effective and appropriate for assessing the well-being of people and communities.