Do the people along the Kuskokwim River want more salmon in its waters? If so, what measures would they allow to make that happen and what would they prohibit? These are questions that regional salmon management and fishing groups are asking the public to answer. Proponents say that doing so will strengthen residents’ control over their fish stocks.
The Kuskokwim is decades behind in creating a salmon production plan. Most areas in the state developed theirs in the 1980s. The Kuskokwim talked about making one at that time, but it never came about.
Most plans were created to help rebuild fish stocks in the face of commercial fishing pressure. The Kuskokwim has never really had much of a commercial fishery, but a few groups want to be prepared.
“It gives the residents of the region a lot of opportunity to drive and decide how they want their stocks to be maintained," said Karen Gillis, Executive Director of the Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association.
The group has helped the Yukon River and Norton Sound areas develop production plans. Now it wants to help the Kuskokwim. It’s teaming up with the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission and the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group to do that.
LaMont Albertson co-chairs the Working Group and also works with the Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association. He’s offered his support.
“It allows us to be proactive," said Albertson. "It allows us to plan and have something in place when there are some requests made for enhancement of salmon habitat.”
Under the state Salmon Fishery Enhancement Program a production plan might involve hatcheries, but enhancement can also include anything affecting salmon stocks. For example, Norton Sound cleaned up spawning grounds polluted by mining and also fertilized lakes to increase food for salmon fry.
Production plans are important because any proposed enhancements have to align with an area’s plan to gain state approval.
“So if the region says we don’t want hatcheries, then that’s what the plan says," said Jim Simon with the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association. “Or it lays out, we don’t want hatcheries until this can happen and this can happen, and we can assure that natural wild stock are not negatively impacted.”
Simon is leading the Kuskokwim’s effort to create a salmon production plan. The Yukon River plan involved no hatcheries. In the Kuskokwim, people will need to decide on that option and others.
Simon is organizing a series of public meetings from September to June to collect community input for the plan.
The possibilities and the parameters are for the Kuskokwim region to decide.