The first King salmon are being caught on the Kuskokwim River and state managers don’t foresee any restrictions for at least a few weeks. Fishermen on the Kuskokwim River can use 8 inch King nets right now, something that was highly restricted last year due to a very poor run. The State’s preseason data calls for another low return this year but so far, managers say there’s no reason to restrict fishing.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game began its test fishery project at Bethel June 1. Workers fish the tides and compare their catches to past years in order to see how the run is doing. It’s a main indicator when it comes to managing the subsistence fishery.
The test fishery caught the first King salmon on June 8. State manager, Travis Elison, says the run is likely about a week late. He says they are cautiously optimistic about the run and they don’t foresee any fishing closures at least until later in the month.
“So, the recommendation for right now is to remain with the main stem of the Kuskokwim open to subsistence fishing to all gear types, unrestricted gill net mesh meaning you can use large mesh gear for King salmon,” Elison says.
The recommendation was shared in a large teleconference meeting of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group. During the meeting, several fishermen up and down the river shared fishing reports which showed that Kings are being caught in the lower part of the river.
James Charles is from Tuntutuliak, about 50 miles downriver of Bethel near the Bering Sea coast. He says even though there is still some snow on the ground there, he has caught 23 Kings since last week. He says that he also caught five reds and a few chums and that other fishermen are catching salmon too.
“People are pleased with what they are catching this time,” Charles says. “I see some fish on the fish racks, not like last year.”
Bethel’s Tribe, Orutsararmuit Native Council, is again conducting subsistence surveys of families near Bethel. They surveyed 16 families about their fishing to June 10th. Many families reported that they were drying smelts but five families said they were starting to fish for salmon, either with set or drift nets.
About 30 miles upriver, Mike Williams Sr. of Akiak says some fishermen are catching Kings in their set nets but there is little drifting happening because most families are working on getting their fish camps ready. But he says they are hearing good reports from the nearby village of Akiachak and fishermen there are averaging between three and five Kings per drift.
“Fishers in Akiachak caught Kings a week ago,” Williams says. “And I think a good portion of them are passing by quickly.”
Most fishermen in the middle and upper Kuskokwim River reported that residents are concentrating on catching white and shee fish now before the salmon arrive.
The very first King salmon have been caught in Kalskag and Aniak within the last two days.