You could have heard a gasp when it became clear at an Anchorage meeting on Wednesday that the state’s new tool to help manage king salmon on the Kuskokwim River, a special subsistence king salmon permit, would be available in Anchorage. The plan has some of the river’s residents worried that it would destroy years of sacrifice to get more fish to spawning grounds.
The new, free Kuskokwim River subsistence king salmon permit was approved by the Board of Fish as a way to soften the impact of subsistence closures on villages in the middle and upper Kuskokwim river: communities located upriver from Aniak. Permit holders would be able to take up to 10 kings per household during king closures. The permits would be available in upriver communities and in the Anchorage Fish and Game office. When members of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group heard about its availability in Anchorage, some were concerned that it could attract outsiders to the region.
Lisa Feyereisen, a member of the working group from Crow Village, which is located above Aniak, argued for the permit, saying that it would help her and others in the middle river and above get a taste of the much-coveted king salmon. She pointed to the existing “community fisheries” in federal waters in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge on the Lower Kuskokwim, saying that it would give the same opportunity to communities strung along state waters outside of the refuge.
“Within federal waters they were able to do a community permit and they had designated fishermen, and they had a community allocation for Kalskag, Tuluksak, and we didn’t have anything in state regulations to allow us to catch kings in time of closures when it's conservative.”
Federal law allows hunting and fishing rights based on residency; the state constitution does so only through a difficult process. John Linderman with the Department of Fish and Game tried to allay concerns from members of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Working Group by pointing to the analysis that Fish and Game staff provided to the Board of Fish. He said that it was limited to the potential fishing effort from communities above Aniak on the Kuskokwim. If it was intended as a permit available to any Alaskan, he said, the results would have been very different.
“You would have done a very different analysis and I don’t know if it would have been viable, given the intent of it just being a permit that’s in place when there is a need for conservation, and to provide that taste of fish.”
Linderman told the working group that he would report back on whether the measure would be limited to local residents as intended by the Board of Fish. Meanwhile, Feyereisen is unconcerned. She says that it's expensive to fly up to Aniak and head upriver to fish; she doesn’t see many Anchorage residents making the trip.
“I’m not worried at all. Like I said, it costs quite a bit of money to come out to Aniak, and then where are they going to stay. There are no hotels; they don’t have a boat to get around. It’s not a concern for us.”
Ray Collings from McGrath suggested tweaking the permit process to close out permitting in advance, before the season begins.
“If they’re required to pick up their household permit before the season began, then we would know whether we had problems or not with too many. If they tweaked that and required it before the season, it would give us that information.”
The closures last summer and the expected closures this season are part of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group’s effort to get as many kings up the river as possible to ensure a healthier run of the coveted fish in the future.