The Alaska Board of Fish just took up AYK issues in January. The board has a work session planned for October 9-11 in Girdwood and although it’s not on the agenda to talk about Kuskokwim King salmon that’s just what several local groups want the board to do.
The Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association and local tribes want the Board of Fish to take up the Kuskokwim King salmon run out of cycle.
The fisherman’s association submitted an agenda change request out of a conservation concern for the run. In it, the association questions the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the new model they used for this year’s escapement goals.
The new model lowered those goals.
Karen Gillis is the Executive Director of the association.
“It’s really kind of a cart before the horse decision as far as we were concerned,” Gillis says.
Even with the lower escapement goals, the numbers were not met. In fact, escapements were the lowest in history. Biologists were taken by surprise having thought they’d have enough fish for both subsistence and escapement needs.
Gillis says the fisherman’s association wants the Board of Fish to re-evaluate the change.
“And the model that they used hasn’t really been reviewed by anyone outside of the department,” Gillis says. “And we really had worked pretty hard along with the Association of Village Council Presidents to at least have a chance at reviewing the data and the model development itself and that still hasn’t been done.”
The Association of Village Council Presidents represents 56 villages in the region and most villages along the Kuskokwim River.
Some tribes have come forward supporting an agenda change for the Board to take up the issue. Lisa Feyereisen is the Tribal Administrator in Chuathbaluk located on the middle Kuskokwim River.
“There’s no fish,” Feyereisen says. “There’s no fish escaping.”
She says the tribal administration conducted several surveys of residents this summer to check how their subsistence fishing season was going. They found out that it wasn’t going well. Residents were sometimes drifting dozens of times for just a few Kings.
“And so as a voluntary conservation effort, we in Chuathbaluk, we realized there was no Chinook escaping,” Feyereisen says. “We all asked them to voluntarily not fish for Chinook and just put up Reds and Dogs because there just wasn’t any Chinook coming up here.”
Feyereisen and Gillis say this year was not the first poor King run on the Kuskokwim. The 2012 year saw so many restrictions on the lower river that subsistence fishermen harvested salmon out of protest to feed their families. They both stress that the problem isn’t an upriver-downriver one and they don’t want that kind of conflict to come out of this.
Feyereisen says conservation measures need to be implemented before the start of next year’s fishing season so that residents can get used to them. She hopes that the Board of Fish, when it meets next month, will take one step closer to making that happen.
The comment deadline for the board’s work session is Sept. 25. Comments can be submitted at the BOF website.