Kuskokwim Working Group Struggles With Early Season Uncertainty

by Ben Matheson on June 5, 2014

Kuskokwim Working Group Members Discuss early season management. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

Kuskokwim Working Group Members Discuss early season management. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

Early season uncertainty dominated a Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group meeting Thursday. Going into the third week of salmon closures, the Working Group directly took on the possibility of illegal so called-protest fishing which reportedly was raised by Yupiit Nation members.

A motion urges subsistence fishers to “not protest fish in order to save and protect the Kuskokwim king salmon.” Working group member Bev Hoffman said people on the river have a role in how this summer goes.

“Really push that idea that to protect our Kuskokwim kings we need to be part of the solution… that if we fish like there’s no tomorrow, there will be no fish tomorrow. And that’s why I feel so strongly that we have to come out and say that,” said Hoffman.

There were no representatives from Yupiit Nation present to speak with the working group.

Reached Friday, Mike Williams, a working group member and Chief of Yupiit Nation, says he takes issue with the terms protest fishing and civil disobedience. He says Yupiit Nation is not pushing for illegal fishing.

“We don’t support protest fishing and civil disobedience. That’s why we’re trying to avoid that,” said Williams.

Yupiit Nation is hosting a fisheries summit next Thursday and Friday in Bethel, featuring the Northwest Indian Fish Commission.

A thread of perceived inequity along the river came up Thursday. Early subsistence reports show some people in the lower river catching king salmon in 4” set nets, some with more success than others. Mark Leary of Napaimute said that’s not the intention of the restriction.

“I sense a growing frustration in the middle Kuskokwim over the people that are targeting king salmon with four inch nets and advertising it all over Facebook. It’s causing hard feelings, and they need to stop,” said Leary.

Federal in Season Manager Brian McCaffery says if there is indeed too much Chinook harvest with 4” nets, he has tools to stop it.

“We have indicated that we may have to take subsequent general measures, for example limiting hours or days that the 4” mesh may be used. I would like to clarify that that has not happened,” said McCaffery.

Gauging the run and knowing when to open for dipnets or bigger gear isn’t simple this year. The first few days of Bethel Test Fish data are in, but with no real harvest on the lower river, managers can’t confidently say what it means. Kevin Schaberg is a research biologist with Fish and Game.

“There are more fish going past Bethel right now than there have been in the past, however when we compare the 63 from today to historical information and try to project where we’re are going to be in the total run, that’s where we don’t know what the 63 means,” said Shaberg.

Also unknown is the plan for weirs at Tuluskak and Kwethluk, which are being held up by members of those communities unless they can fish for kings this month. Fish and Wildlife staff indicated that they would go ahead with or without the villages in order to count escapement. The group passed a motion reaffirming support for the weirs.

Thanks to dual management, there are different rules above Aniak, and working group members got a bit more clarity. Kuskokwim Area Manager Aaron Poetter said that there will not yet be fishwheels on state waters and that the state’s version of a cultural and social harvest will not done this year. The working group voted to ask the state look into creating an “elders fishery” in state waters instead.

In other action, the group voted to add Bethel resident Mary Sattler as an alternate in a subsistence seat. Sattler currently works for Donlin Gold. The next working group meeting is scheduled for June 17th.

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