Kuskokwim working group sets preliminary 2014 management strategy

by Ben Matheson on January 10, 2014

2014 is set to start off completely closed to subsistence salmon fishing. The final schedule is still elusive, but Fish and Game and the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group are inching towards a plan. On Thursday, they adopted a preliminary management strategy that will include very heavy early season subsistence salmon closures.

The season would start closed beginning May 15th for the lowest section of the river closing later going up the river, for example around the 18th for section up to Tuluksak. That actual fishing schedule is not ready though, as breakup and run timing will change the river dynamics. The group does want some opportunity for salmon harvest, if possible, and passed a motion that give some guidance to how that could happen. Co-chair Casie Stockdale explains the priorities:

“We’re going to have an opportunity for a taste in the early part of the season, then we will have some opportunity in the latter part of June when chum and sockeye are more abundant, and then we will provide more opportunity on other species in July,” said Stockdale.

In the adopted preliminary strategy, the Kuskowkwim would be closed to sport fishing for kings. The tributaries would be closed from June 1st to July 25th like has been done in recent years. There would be a delay commercial fishing until the bulk of the king salmon had moved past. And it includes starting on a schedule that still in the works.

The group spent a lot of time discussing how to open the salmon fishery for very limited early season harvest. Co-Chair Bev Hoffman spoke to the significance of first tastes, and the responsibility that people need to have.

“You hear that constantly that people share that first fish. That’s the idea we want to get across to people is that we don’t have enough kings for the drying rack,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman urged very short early season openings, just a few hours. The more than 4,000 subsistence households on the river have a lot of fishing power.

There is plenty of flexibility built into the proposed plan. Managers would apply closure and fishing periods based on run timing and travel speed. The could cancel fishing periods if run assessment shows there’s not enough fish to achieve escapement, or inversely, open the fishery if run assessment shows adequate escapement. The group set an ambitious goal of 85,000 kings escaping. They also want to provide more opportunities on the upper river. Kevin Schaberg is a state biologist.

“There are opportunities and circumstances that may result in this schedule when it comes out being changed. and it’s not this is the end of the world, there may be no more opportunities, they’re not going to budge on this. It lets folks know that we are going to continue to evaluate this. We’re going continue to look at information. It may result scheduled periods being closed because the information is there, it’s not a for sure thing, and it may result in those opportunities being extended,” said Shaberg.

That said, the group does want to have a relatively firm plan ready soon so that they can maximize the communication efforts and shoot for compliance with all of the closures.

The group also endorsed two emergency petitions to the state board of fish. The first would allow for dipnets by emergency order when the commissioner determines that it is necessary to conserve king salmon. All kings caught with a dipnet must be released. The second petition would give the commissioner the ability to limit net length to 25 fathoms in times of emergency. The board of fish will take a look at those petitions in March.

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