Kuskokwim Fishers: Stop Commercial Openings, Call in Feds

by Daysha Eaton on July 23, 2014

FishThe Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group wants the state to end to all commercial openings for the remainder of the summer. The say despite unmet subsistence needs the state has allowed commercial salmon openings. Some upriver fishermen are fed up with the state, and want the Federal Subsistence Board to manage the river from here on out.

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Bev Hoffman is Co-chair of the Kuskokwim Salmon Working group, a group of stakeholders in the fishery that’s advising managers. On Monday she sent a letter to Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell asking her to stop all commercial fishing on the river and in Kuskokwim Bay.

Fishers line up to unload their fish at tender, Kelly-Mae near Napaskiak on Friday, July 18th during a six-hour commercial opening for chum salmon. - Photo by Sophie Evan

Fishers line up to unload at tender, Kelly-Mae near Napaskiak on Friday, July 18th during a six-hour commercial opening for chum salmon. – Photo by Sophie Evan

“We have supported openings in other years. But with the situation this year, every fish is precious. And here on the lower river we’re able to use the chums quite easily. They’re beautiful, they’re silvery, they’re fresh. Further up the river where they see the effects of whatever we’re doing down here, they just were frustrated so I supported a no commercial opener this year,” said Hoffman.

State management biologist Aaron Potter says the Department is transitioning to coho salmon management and will not hold any more commercial openings until they determine there’s a surplus of cohos. That’s after 18-thousand chum salmon, 2500 sockeyes, and 5 thousand silvers and 29 Kings were caught in commercial nets.

On July 9th the working group voted against a commercial opening because they said subsistence needs had not yet been met, particularly upriver. Only one member of the group dissented.

Nastasha ‘Jackie’ Levi with the Village of Lower Kalskag, about 100 miles upriver from Bethel does not think there should be commercial openings until subsistence needs are met for the Native people along the entire river.

“A lot of our people are still fishing. There’s even some families that are just gonna start fishing. Most of our residents have not met their needs. We haven’t been seeing the number of fish that this Bethel Test Fishery is saying is coming up here. When there’s a commercial fishing we know in two days, more or less, that we’ll hardly see any fish,” said Levi.

Fishers near Napaskiak during a commercial opening on Monday, July 21. - Photo by Sophie Evan

Fishers near Napaskiak during a commercial chum salmon opening on Monday, July 21. – Photo by Sophie Evan

Subsistence fishers are relying more heavily on chum harvests this year and many say Coho or silver salmon will be needed to meet needs.

Some communities want the federal managers back in control.

The Villages of Lower Kalskag and Napaimute passed resolutions Monday requesting the Federal Subsistence Board take special action and, once again exert federal jurisdiction for management of the fishery. Federal officials had managed the king run after a request by Napaskiak traditional council.

Fish and Game’s Aaron Potter says if there’s a harvestable surplus of fish, he is required by law to open for commercial fishing once escapement goals are met.

“Part of our mandate is to provide that opportunity. We had a processor that was interested in buying. We had fishermen that were interested in fishing. We had our surplus. We had opportunities in that back end of the chum salmon run before the coho really started getting into the system. (Daysha: Do you have to have these openings). We would be doing a disservice to commercial fishermen in that entire industry if we did not provide a harvest opportunity,” said Potter.

In the letter addressed to Commissioner Campbell, Hoffman notes that Coastal Villages Region Fund loses millions subsidizing the commercial fishery.

Fishers near Napaskiak during a commercial chum opening on Monday, July 21.

Fishers near Napaskiak during a commercial chum salmon opening on Monday, July 21.

Commissioner Campbell’s office says she’s out on travel. Jeff Regnart, the Director of Commercial Fisheries with ADF&G answered for her, saying he’d received Hoffman’s letter.

“We recognize the working group and their concerns. We participate in all the working group meetings. We understood where their stance was on commercial opportunity, subsistence needs being met, during the meeting. This letter reiterates that. Sometimes we’re not always on the same page. But never stops us from continuing to work to be on the same page,” said Regnart.

Managers have held three commercial chum salmon openings on the Kuskokwim River, from Bethel downstream to the mouth since July 14th. And there have been more than a dozen commercial openings for chum and sockeye salmon for the Kuskokwim Bay districts since the fishery opened earlier.

The Kuskokwim Working Group meets Wednesday afternoon.

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