Kuskokwim Working Group Plans Conservation Measures

by Ben Matheson on April 2, 2014

The summer of 2014 promises to be a fishing season unlike any others. As managers attempt to preserve the King Salmon run for future years, fisherman can expect to start the season closed to subsistence salmon fishing. There could be new gear, due to the recent approval of dipnets. Against a background of unknowns,the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group will attempt this week to nail down a plan for the summer.

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High on the agenda is a proposed subsistence fishing schedule. Previous drafts have shown June almost completely closed to subsistence salmon fishing. With a stated goal of reaching 85-thousand kings escaping upriver, fishers should expect severe restrictions.

Dave Cannon works for the Native Village of Napaimute and is one of 15 member working group members. He says the group plans to get as close as possible to a schedule, but it’s tough to do that preseason. And the in-season data are never complete enough to perfectly gauge a harvestable surplus.

“Things like the Bethel Test Fishery and other tools give us sometimes a good indication, but other times not a good indication as to the timing of the run and the strength of the run. Unfortunately this is the biologists’ and managers’ conundrum. No one knows for certain until the end of the season,” said Cannon.

There have been varying levels of restrictions on subsistence fishing for King Salmon on the Kuskoswim River over the past several years because not enough salmon are making it to spawning grounds. Two summers ago two dozen fishermen were cited for fishing during closures.

The forecast is for between 70,000 to 117,000 kings. If the run size is closer to the lower end, there will be little to no surplus harvestable king salmon.

The Working Group has said they would like to give fishers an opportunity for what they call an early taste of king salmon in June with more opportunity to fish for other salmon species later in the summer. Given the likely conservation measures and the threatened run, the working group wants to spread the word on how high the stakes are this summer.

“Go in to this potentially troublesome summer with some awareness. And one of the topics is to try and get the word out to people and let them know exactly what the Salmon Working Group and agencies have come up with and try to work together to try and bring back these kings,” said Cannon.

A pending Federal Special Action Request would throw another curveball into the management mix. The Federal Subsistence Board later this month will weigh in on a proposal to limit king salmon fishing to rural residents. A newly completed ANILCA section 804 analysis would further limit that pool of subsistence users to residents of 29 communities.

An interagency discussion on salmon research projects happened Wednesday. The working group meeting takes place Thursday and Friday in Anchorage.

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