Subsistence Fishermen Prepare for Silvers

by Ben Matheson on July 23, 2014

The Kuskokwim Salmon Management Working Group met July 23rd in Bethel. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

The Kuskokwim Salmon Management Working Group met July 23rd in Bethel. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

There are no plans for the next commercial salmon opening on the Kuskokwim River as managers wait for coho salmon to arrive. In a summer with unprecedented subsistence fishing restrictions, middle river fishermen say this summers’ three commercial openers have been three too many.

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After the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group twice opposed commercial salmon openings and the department went ahead with three, people weren’t happy and that was abundantly clear during a meeting Wednesday.

Lisa Feyereisen from Crow Village, near Aniak went to another meeting last week in Kalskag, where she says 44 households are still fishing after the chums didn’t show up.

“And that’s the feeling we’re having with the commercial openers, is that was taking food out of our people’s mouth they need for this winter,” said Feyereisen.

Some upriver were so dissatisfied that they asked for federal officials to take over. The Office of Subsistence Management will soon present the Federal Subsistence Board with the request from two upriver villages and the Kuskokwim Native Association and a recommendation. There’s no timeline on that process and at the moment, no plans here for another commercial opening. State Management biologist Aaron Poetter says his team will study the data and visit with subsistence users in the coming days.

“We do not have any specific benchmarks we are shooting for with regards to making a particular recommendation on additional harvest opportunity,” said Poetter.

The buyer, Coastal Villages Seafood has asked the department to wait until more people have gotten what they need for the year. As the silvers begin to roll in, Co-Chair Bev Hoffman shared the common sentiment that people plan to fish for those silvers certainly harder than usual.

“From all walks of life I’m talking about…people are really looking for silvers to fill their freezers,” said Hoffman.

Managers know that the run may be stressed in this unusual year of subsistence fishing. Kevin Shaberg is a research biologist with the Department of Fish and Game.

“We are expecting a below average run, not a lot below average, but below average for coho,” said Shaberg.

The preseason forecast anticipated an 80,000–140,000 coho surplus available for commercial harvest.

The four-and-a-half hour meeting had a much higher than usual attendance, including a handful of commercial fishermen who told the group that their commercial income is what gets them through the year and provides for subsistence activities.

The group did not act on Co-Chair LaMont Albertson’s proposed votes of no confidence in the state’s commercial and subsistence divisions.

“It strikes a lot of people upriver that the subsistence division is nothing but a paper tiger and they’re just not there for what we think a subsistence division ought to be doing in terms of helping us meet our needs up there,” said Albertson.

That turned into a broader discussion with state officials about looking into permit systems and more equitably allocating salmon resources between difference sections of the river. That would involve appealing to the Board of Fish.

This summer’s late season tension will be reaching higher levels of government. LaMont Albertson will drafting letters to the Governor and Attorney General, and Senator Mark Begich sent a letter to the Fish and Game Commissioner Wednesday asking for a review of decisions thus far and whether more can be done to ensure people get fish.

The next Working Group meeting will be on Wednesday.

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