Fishermen Prepare for First Drift Gillnet Opening of Summer

by Ben Matheson on June 20, 2014

Bethel Test Fishery early season catch. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

Bethel Test Fishery early season catch. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

At 4pm Friday afternoon, lower Kuskokwim fishermen will have the first four hour opening for fishing with 6” gillnets. This is the first drift opportunity with bigger nets in a month. Roland White is the Tuntutuliak Traditional Council President.

“I believe quite a few people will go out,” said White.

He says the lower river is mostly chums right now, with some reds as well. The wide river at Tuntutuliak has strong currents, so people had been setting nets in tributaries like the Kialik and Tuntutuliak river in efforts to fill their racks.

“The current isn’t as strong but yet it pulls 40 to 80 pound anchors quite some distance, and that tears a lot of holes in our nets,” said White.

White says he’ll be glad to be able to drift again.

After 2013 showed the weakest king salmon run on record, and not having made escapement in two of the past four year, managers of the Kuskowkwim River did not allow directed king fishing. And they’ve been holding off on opening to drift nets until now because they’re trying to get enough kings to spawning grounds before opening the fishery to smaller-mesh-size nets targeting other salmon species.

Further up the Kuskokwim, Steven Maxie, the Napaskiak Tribal Administrator was glad to learn of the opening.

“It’s a relief hearing it but the reaction is that it’s downriver and the majority of our people can’t afford to buy gas to go down, I had several calls that they won’t be able to participate, but several people that are pooling gas may join in that opening,” said Maxie.

After long closures intended to bring the bulk of the king salmon run past the river’s 2 thousand subsistence households to spawning grounds, White says the clock is ticking on the drying season.

“Maybe for about a week to two weeks it will be good drying weather yet, but once the rain starts coming down it will be very hard for the salmon to dry properly,” said White.

Another short opening is expected next week for Kuskokwim waters above the Johnson River. Maxie says people he’s spoken with are looking forward to it.

“It’ll be like summer, again,” said Maxie.

The unprecedented lower river gillnet restrictions went into place May 20th.

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