Less subsistence closures expected on Kuskokwim

by Angela Denning-Barnes on January 28, 2013

The Board of Fisheries adopted a new management plan for the Kuksokwim River which includes stronger language supporting the King salmon subsistence fishery.The new language is more conservative regarding commercial harvests of Kings and directs managers to consider harvest trends in the subsistence fishery first. It also establishes a drainage wide escapement goal for King salmon, something that never existed before.

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John Linderman is the AYK Regional Supervisor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“It’s very specific direction that now the Department of Fish and Game is. . . obligated I think is almost too weak of a word… to ensure that those factors are taken into account and adequately addressed in the way that you manage any of the fisheries, subsistence or commercial, sport for that matter as well,” Linderman said.

Overall, there should be less restriction on subsistence fishing. That’s due in large part to the state’s plan to lower escapement goals. They have compiled a decade of research and found that not as many fish are needed to escape as they once thought. It’s what they are calling “new knowledge and understanding” and looks at past runs through a new model.

It concludes that more salmon spawning doesn’t mean larger future runs. It shows that the fry compete for food and so having less of them actually produce larger returns.

“And so the result of that is if you don’t need as many fish based on new understanding for escapement, then you have more fish available for harvest, for the subsistence fishery in particular, but any fishery,” said Linderman. “And the result of that is definitely the potential for restrictions in the subsistence or any fishery is going to be significantly reduced moving forward in any given year.”

In other words, restricting subsistence fishermen like last year won’t be necessary, because the goals will be lower.

That has been hard for some stake holders to swallow. The Association of Village Council Presidents, which represents 56 tribes in the region, has been against lower the goals. After seeing King runs diminish in other drainages in the state, they are skeptical that the state’s new plan will work.

AVCP’s President is Myron Naneng.

“They’re only basing their lowering of biological escapement goals based on one tributary that produces Chinook salmon but not really taking a look at how the other tributaries are going to be impacted,” said Naneng going into the board meeting.

At the same, time AVCP has battled against more subsistence restrictions.

Linderman says the state understands their concerns and says they are making progress bringing people on board to the model.

“We feel very confident in the data that we have and very, very complex and significant analysis that were conducted for making these recommended changes to escapement goals,” Linderman said.

If subsistence closures are required to meet goals in the future, there is new language that would allow elders to still fish. It says that Kings could be taken by people 60 and older and that they could receive help fishing by close family members.

The proposal originated with the Napaskiak tribe, located about 10 miles downriver of Bethel. Steven Maxie is Napaskiak’s Tribal Administrator.

“In Napaskiak, our elders were suffering when there were subsistence closures at the start of the fishing season last year,” Maxie said. “They like to eat fresh boiled fish, it’s what we grew up with. The elders were suffering more than us young people. We don’t want to see our elders suffering of hunger.”

Other actions the board took were to adopt new larger figures for the Amounts Necessary for Subsistence.

They also removed the option of using 8 inch gear in commercial fisheries in the lowest part of the Kuskokwim River.

The AYK Board of Fish meeting took place Jan. 15-20 in Anchorage.

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