State wildlife managers are taking an unprecedented step to conserve king salmon in the Quinhagak area. They announced the first subsistence closure of the Qanirtuq River will go into effect this weekend. The decision comes after meetings with local fisher’s who were concerned that longer closures could lead to illegal fishing.
State and federal wildlife managers met with local fish users last week to discuss options for conserving the king, or chinook salmon, in the Quinhagak area. The lowest recorded number of chinook salmon were counted in 2012, as they passed through a weir in the Qanirtuuq River. Commercial openings for kings were cancelled in 2013 and that appears to have improved escapement. The meeting last week was called to explore additional conservation measures with locals.
“After the series of meetings we had with the village, that’s what they wanted to see was Sunday closures and we think it’ll give the chinook an extra day to get into the river,” says Alaska Department of Fish and Game Assistant Area Management Biologist Aaron Tiernan.
The Native Village of Kuinhagak and locals say they support subsistence salmon fishing for everyone. But Quinhagak is just around 15 miles from the mouth of the Kuskokwim, well out of restricted waters. There are concerns that additional pressure on the Qanirtuuq chinook run by fisherman from other areas will deplete the run past the point it could recover.
In the Qanirtuut Community Building where the meeting was held many locals said any subsistence restrictions should be limited. “I know my people will get their fish because salmon is their way of life. They won’t stop if they have to be arrested they will, for their way of subsistence,” says Quinhagak resident Grace Hill.
Hill and fish managers are trying to avoid the situation that occurred in 2012 when dozens of Kuskokwim River villagers fished during a subsistence salmon closure.
Most locals expressed their disapproval of being regulated, especially any closures. But as the meeting progressed locals appeared receptive to the one-day closure, after it was further explained by fish managers and tribal officials. But what most locals really wanted to see was further investigations into other things that might be affecting the chinook spawning areas like bears and predatory birds.
Another restriction being considered by state managers is closing off the mouth of the Qanirtuuq River during the commercial openers, if such openers will be allowed.
Tiernan says the size and scope of that potential closure is yet to be decided. But he says it could give the chinook salmon a better chance to get into the river, and ultimately, to their spawning grounds.
He also says, subsistence activities and escapement will be closely monitored. Depending on the opinions and numbers, any of the restrictions, or proposed restrictions, may be revisited. “We’re going to closely monitor the fishery or try to keep the best tabs on it that we possibly can cause if we need to we’re gonna have to do further research into the subsistence fishery,” says Tiernan.
Currently the Qanirtuq river closure is scheduled for the next four Sundays. Fish and Game says they’ll announce any further changes in these restrictions. They also said a decision should be made about the commercial closures of the mouth of the commercial closure within the next two weeks.