Kuskokwim river subsistence fishermen should receive more fishing openings for chinook salmon this summer than they had last year.
Harvest figures show that about 37,000 chinook were harvested from the Kuskokwim last summer. That’s about 10,000 fish less than managers had allocated for subsistence catch. Now managers are estimating that this year's Chinook run will be similar, so there can be more openings.
“The benefit of hindsight is we understand what opportunity we provided and what that harvest equated out to. So given that the forecast is similar, if we’re trying to get a similar harvest we can provide more opportunity," said Aaron Poetter, a fish biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The agency predicts a chinook run size of 132,000 to 222,000 fish along the Kuskokwim. Like last year, the numbers are below the historic average.
State and federal managers remain in what they call "conservation mode," and will be taking a cautionary approach to fishing openings this summer as they try to rebuild the salmon stock. The number and length of openings will be determined in-season based on the run size entering the Kuskokwim.
The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group has suggested that state and federal managers close the main Kuskokwim stem to chinook fishing from May 20 through June 11.
During closures, managers could still set aside times for fishermen to use live release gear like fish wheels, beach seines, hook and line, and dipnets as well as four-inch or smaller mesh gillnets to target non-salmon species.
Poetter says that Kuskokwim tributaries will have different restrictions from the main river. In non-salmon spawning tributaries like the Gweek and Johnson Rivers, any size gillnets will be allowed.
In tributaries where the salmon do spawn, like the Kwethluk, Kisaralik, Tuluksak, and Aniak rivers, no gillnets will be allowed all season.