On Tuesday, June 12, Federal managers will take over management of the Lower Kuskokwim waters in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Tuesday is also the first river-wide 6-inch mesh gillnet salmon opening of the summer. Federally qualified fishermen will be able to put their nets in the water at 10 a.m on Tuesday and continue fishing until 10 p.m. that night.
Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Executive Director Mary Peltola says that the opening is meant to help people catch salmon early in the run.
"Recognizing that there is a lot of desire to go subsistence fish for salmon earlier in the season rather than later in the season, the Fish Commission, the in-season managers, Fish and Wildlife, Fish and Game agreed that the first opening would be on June 12."
Nets for Tuesday's opening must be 6-inch mesh or less, and not more than 45 meshes in depth. Above the Johnson River to the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge boundary at Aniak, nets must be 25 fathoms or less in length. That's 150 feet. Nets can be longer downriver; from the Johnson River to the mouth of the Kuskokwim, nets can be 50 fathoms. That's 300 feet in length.
State waters in the upper Kuskokwim will also have the first 12-hour 6-inch mesh gillnet subsistence opening on Tuesday. Federal managers did not say exactly when nets could go into the water in the upper river, but basically the same regulations on net mesh and net size will apply. The far upper regions of the Kuskokwim to the headwaters will remain open indefinitely.
On Saturday, June 16, Ken Stahlnecker, Refuge Manager of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge and federal fisheries manager on the Lower Kuksokwim, has authorized another 12-hour, 6-inch mesh subsistence salmon opening. He says that data from new probability models makes him confident that enough kings will swim by the nets to the upper river and spawning grounds.
"The chances of falling below the drainage-wide escapement goal of 65,000 is extremely low," said Stahlnecker. "It's below 5 percent. And in fact there is a 40 percent chance of exceeding that escapement goal at the top end of 120,000 fish. Under those circumstances, there are essentially 16,000 chinook salmon available to be harvested."
Last year, managers were criticized for not giving enough notice for openings. Some announcements came just 24 hours before nets were to go into the water, prompting many to complain they did not have enough time to plan or get ready to fish. Some missed the openings.
State Area Manager Aaron Tiernan did not schedule a second opening to coincide with the Federal one on Saturday June 16. He is more cautious and wants to wait to count the fish before authorizing another king opening.
"And the reason," Tierman said, "I don't want to announce a second opportunity right away is I want to hear some harvest reports at the next working group meeting next week from that first opener in the entirety of the river here, and also want to see how the run assessment builds in the next week or so."
After the June 12 opening, the state has authorized the use of a new king salmon permit in the upper river waters. That permit allows state residents to harvest 10 kings per household during king closures.