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Hooligan won’t be social distancing, but harvesters should

The annual hooligan run draws people to the river for spring harvest. But how will this typically convivial tradition work in a time of social distancing? The run hasn’t started yet, but tribes are planning for increased precautions.

Hooligan run every spring, whether or not there’s a pandemic. Travel restrictions and social distancing requirements don’t apply to smelt. But they do apply to the people who harvest them—even as the state begins to lift COVID-19 restrictions.

“But as we slowly move back into things, I just don’t want people thinking that it’s all over and we can do whatever we want to do,” said Kimberly Strong, the president of the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan. It’s home to nearly one hundred people, and lots of them harvest hooligan. It’s not just subsistence, she said; it’s culture.

“It is a community event and it is a very sharing time and we do eat the hooligans right out of the cooking pot when we’re rendering the hooligan grease. And people come over and  we have a good time sitting around the fire pits and enjoying ourselves,” Strong said.

Strong said some parts of the harvest are still possible, but the traditions should be observed with safety in mind. She urged residents to be extra cautious and said many Klukwan residents are in high-risk categories for the coronavirus.

Strong recommended that in addition to social distancing, harvesters should avoid sharing nets and buckets. And she said that neighbors can still share their harvests with each other, as long as they set out clean buckets and avoid entering other households. She also cautioned against ride sharing when heading down to the river.

The Chilkoot Indian Association is also taking precautions with the hooligan run. CIA will still conduct its yearly research project, with some limitations. It is suspending mark recapture, the most reliable method of counting the fish. Usually the tribe hires about a dozen people for the count.

“And this year, we won’t be doing that at all on the Chilkoot River,” said Meredith Pochart, a biologist who contracts with CIA for the project. She said the good news is that the group started collecting EDNA in 2014. That’s a data gathering method that only requires a couple people to test water at a time.

“[We’ll still have the large regional scope of the project, but the personnel involved will be greatly reduced,” Pochart said.

Zephyr Sincerny nets hooligan to keep as a healthy treat throughout the year. (Photo by Henry Leasia/KHNS)

Pochart said CIA plans to take samples on the Chilkat, Chilkoot, Taiya, Ferebee, and Katzehin Rivers. She suggested that folks who harvest fish spread out on the river and wear masks.

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