Conservation and stock rebuilding will once again be the path forward this summer for salmon management, with managers making decisions during the season, based on how many fish show up.
At the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Public Hearing, moderators Eve Patton and Gary Decossas with the Office of Subsistence Management led an overview discussion on two proposals for Kuskokwim salmon that the Federal Subsistence Board will decide on next month.
The first, from the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, would restrict King salmon fishing to only federally qualified subsistence users. The second, from the Akiak Native Community, would apply to all salmon species and the entire river drainage.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicts a similar Chinook run as last year. The state estimates managers could have allowed about ten thousand more fish to be harvested last year and still meet goals for salmon getting to spawning grounds.
The state's Kuskokwim Salmon Management Working Group, representing all stakeholders, including commercial and sports fishing, supports federal management of Kuskokwim Chinook this summer. Co-Chair Lamont Albertson said federal protection for Chinook salmon is vital for their recovery.
“The one action that I think absolutely needs to happen this summer is federal management of the king salmon fishery,” said Albertson. “I think it would be a dereliction of duty for the federal government not to assume control of the king salmon fishery this year.”
Interim Executive Director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Mary Peltola, says while bearing the brunt of conservation continues to be rough, it’s worth it in the long run.
“A lot of people on the river are not happily restricting their own consumption,” says Peltola, “but understanding that for the strength of the run and for future generations to have access to this run, we need to be very careful to make sure we are not over harvesting.”
After the presentations and testimony on the proposals, local residents had a chance to discuss implementation.
Bethel resident, Richard Kinegak, said the timing of last season's closures did not mesh well with the opportunities people had to process their fish.
“I know that the closures were for the Chinook salmon to meet their escapement goals,” says Kinegak, “But I also noticed it was happening around the times when it was the best weather for us a culture that we fish and dry and smoke our fish.”
He hopes regulators will take this into consideration for the coming salmon season.
The Federal Subsistence Board will meet in May.