Bethel test fishery numbers initiate extended restrictions

by Kyle Clayton on July 2, 2013

Low King numbers are showing up in the state’s main counting project near Bethel. The Bethel Test Fishery monitors the run by drifting each tide with both 8 inch and 5 3/8 inch nets. It’s been recording data since 1984.

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So far, this year’s numbers look worse than any recent year.

“It’s probably not a stellar run.”

Kevin Schaberg is a research biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He was speaking at a teleconference with the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group. Referring to graphs that show how the run compares to past years, he told the group that the King run might be better than last year, but it’s not good.

“There’s obviously more fish than last year, but at the same time, it’s not an average or better run.”

But it’s likely there’s more Kings this summer because there haven’t been closures and there are fewer restrictions.

In fact, according to Bethel Test Fishery data, it’s a worse run. The fishery has caught 26 percent fewer King Salmon this summer compared to July 1 last year.

Many middle and upriver residents participated in the teleconference. Some say they haven’t been getting as many Kings this year as they’d like and they’re burning a lot of gas to get to the fish. Overfishing on the lower Kuskokwim also dominated much of the discussion.

Aniak’s Nick Kameroff suggested closures in the Bethel area next spring.

“It’s hard on the first part of the season up here on account they got hit so hard downriver,” Kameroff says. “Ninety six percent of the users are in the Bethel area from Napakiak to Tuluksak and that’s a lot of people fishing all at once and that made it slow for our run coming up here.”

Ninety percent of the run has passed Bethel and how to best manage the rest of this summer’s fishing season for folks upriver became the topic of interest. In the end, sustainability took priority.

“In the name of King Salmon conservation I vote yes,” Leary says. “But we’re going to remember this next spring.”

That’s Mark Leary voting for what are now the latest Kuskokwim fishing restrictions. Those include the restriction of gear sizes above 6 inch mesh from the river’s mouth to Tuluksak through July 9 and from Tuluksak to Chuathbaluk through July 14.

The final motion passed 7-2.

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