Sport Fishing for Kings Banned in Entire Kuskokwim Region

by Charles Enoch on June 9, 2014

Anglers near the Denali Highway. Photo Courtesy of Maclaren River Lodge.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has issued an emergency order prohibiting sport fishers from targeting king salmon on the Qanirtuuq River. It’s the first time sport fishers have been restricted from catching kings there, but many locals are doubtful that guide companies will comply.

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“Division of Sport Fish closed the entire Kuskokwim drainage and the Kuskokwim bay drainage to sport fishing for king salmon effectively Thursday May 1, and that precludes any catch and release. If they accidentally catch a king salmon while their fishing for another species, that king salmon may not be removed from the water and must be released immediately,” says Alaska Department of Fish and Game Sport Fish Division Area Biologist John Cythlook.

He said this restriction was the result of an emergency order issued around the end of April.  Like rivers all over Alaska, King escapement has been dwindling in recent years on the Qanirtuuq river.

The emergency order states that only one unbaited, artificial lure may be used in the Kuskokwim-Goodnews area.

There are four guide companies operating on the Qanirtuuq River. They provide guided fishing trips among other wilderness services. There is a history of friction between subsistence fishers there and the guiding operations.

At a meeting held in Quinhagak on May 30, local fisher Willard Church said he’s doubtful that the guide companies stop targeting king salmon as they try to cater to their clients. “If I came up from New York for a float trip for the very first time with a group of twelve, I’d want my King. Especially if I could get it up there,” says Church.
AK West
Of the four guiding outfits operating on the Qanirtuuq River three are currently advertising king salmon as a species anglers can expect to catch. Alaska West, which has the largest operation on the Qanirtuuq according to local residents, has this on their website regarding king salmon, “At Alaska West we have honed and refined our fly angling skills and collective knowledge to a point where we consistently hook and land these behemoth masses that more resemble chrome plated sea lions than fish.” Brian Burke, a sales representative for Alaska West declined to be interviewed but said that their website is up to date.

Owner of another sport fishing guide company called Reel Action, Paul Jacob, said his company will be complying with the restrictions. He says he makes that clear to all his potential customers. But Jacob’s says sport fisher’s must purchase stamps from Fish and Game, and that revnue goes towards things like salmon research.  He says taking down the King salmon advertising on his web-site would be counter productive. “I don’t believe that there is a good reason to do that, because it throws fear into the general public about coming to Alaska, and the research that is done to figure out why these salmon are crashing. It’s not just the Kuskokwim it’s all across all of Alaska, and when you scare people away by having them not come up to Alaska you take away the funding that it takes to figure out why the salmon are not doing well in the ocean,” says Jacob.

Meanwhile, Paul Hansen owns another guide operation called Alaska Rainbow Adventures. Hansen says he’ll be moving king salmon anglers to the Alagnak River near King Salmon where sport fishing for king salmon are allowed through king salmon stamps.

While the guide companies around the area appear to comply to recent restrictions, in Quinhagak many aren’t convinced, like John T. Roberts.  Roberts lives in the village and once worked as a sport guide.  He recounts his experiences in the Qanirtuuq River. ”

Department of Fish and Game says wildlife troopers will be making unannounced visits to sport fishing sites to ensure these restrictions are not violated.

For more information in the emergency order, click here.

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