Yesterday, the Federal Subsistence Board turned down a proposal to take over fisheries management authority on the Kuskokwim River. Board members cited two reasons for opposing the proposal from Dave Cannon, a former biologist from Aniak. Cannon said that the measures are needed to better protect Kuskokwim king salmon when their numbers are low.
Greg Siekaniec, Alaska Region Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a member of the Federal Subsistence Board, introduced Cannon’s Special Action request and voted against it. He said that he wanted to support the co-management process which uses a Working Group in combination with state and federal managers and the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission to balance conservation and subsistence fishing needs on the river.
“I think they did a pretty amazing job of coming together this summer,” Siekaniec told his fellow board members. “It wasn’t without hiccups, given the unfortunate low Chinook returns that we had to work through, but in the end I think they did a pretty amazing job of doing that.”
In a vote of seven to one, the Federal Subsistence Board asserted its support of existing management.
Many at Monday’s meeting also noted that most of the kings have already gone upriver into tributaries that are already off limits to gillnet fishing. Cannon acknowledged that conditions on the Kuskokwim River have changed since he submitted his Special Action Request. More kings have shown up and reds have appeared in strong numbers, reducing his concern about a large fishing effort on silvers late in the season. Cannon told KYUK that on Friday he considered rescinding his request, but remains worried about what will happen the next time kings show up in low numbers.
Meanwhile, red salmon are already making a difference on the river during an unusually large red run. Subsistence fisherwoman Mary Peltola, the Interim Executive Director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission, says that she knows many people who are putting up reds – noting that she prefers canning reds over silvers.
“Our sockeye run, our reds, are in very high abundance,” she said. "They are off the charts, actually. We are making up for the shortfall in kings by harvesting reds, so we’re hopeful that will relieve some of the pressure that we’re imagining will be put on silvers.”
The kings are not out of danger yet. Though their numbers seem to be increasing, estimates are that they have a 50-50 chance of meeting the lower end of the escapement goal.
Cannon remains concerned about next year. Another low king year may put the same pressures on the species. He fears that despite pre-season calls for conservation before the season begins, once the kings arrive, the hunger for fish will outweigh any good intentions.