Fishers Face Uncertainty as Summer Fishing Season Approaches

by Ben Matheson on April 9, 2014

After five days of fish meetings that brought state and federal managers together, along with tribal leaders, advisory council members, and Working Group members from up and down the Kuskokwim River, fishers still don’t know exactly what’s going to happen during the 2014 fishing season.

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Robert Aloysius, who sits on the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group and the Regional Advisory Council, says he and other fishers are frustrated, and confused about how fishing will work on the Kuskokwim River this summer.

“And no one seems to give us the clear answer of what can we fish with, when can we fish, and what can we fish for,” said Aloysius.

Aloysius spoke as an individual during a meeting hosted by the Office of Subsistence Management in Bethel Tuesday. Officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service say it’s impossible to answer such questions until the King Salmon begin arriving.

Last week, the Working Group, an advisory body, met in Anchorage to come up with recommendations for fishery managers. They said the season should start closed to king salmon fishing May 20th with possible openings for other species later in the season. This year’s run is expected to be on par with 2013’s, which was the weakest on record, with fewer than 48-thousand Kings escaping.

Tuesday, federal staff heard requests from the village of Kwethluk for a full week of king salmon fishing for residents. Others asked for a harvest of 64,500 kings. Ken Harper, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that could be the entire run.

“There may only be 64,000 fish coming back, so that means you’re not going to allow any fish to get up the tributaries to spawn? That’s wrong,” said Harper.

Next week the Federal Subsistence Board will consider a special action request from the Napaskiak Traditional Council to limit the pool of eligible Chinook fishers to permanent residents of specific Kuskokwim Communities. But that only applies if there is a surplus of Kings, which mangers say is very unlikely.

State officials hope to schedule dipnet openings for Chum and Sockeye Salmon in mid-June and the first gillnet opening at the end of June … but ultimately, their decisions will be based on the requirements law, and how many King Salmon actually return.

The Federal Subsistence Board meets April 15th through 17th in Anchorage to review the Napaskiak Traditional Council’s request.

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