Local mushers say that they are buying dog food and relying on fish from neighbors to cope with low salmon returns from fishing restrictions. A weak Kuskokwim king run limited gillnet fishing on the Kuskokwim River this summer.
Lewis Pavilla from Kwethluk is the defending Bogus Creek 150 race champion. In a typical summer Pavilla can catch all the salmon his dogs need, but this winter he’s buying more dog food than normal.
“A lot of guys have been having problems having food. So the fishing restrictions didn’t help,” Pavilla said.
Pavilla keeps 20 dogs. He wanted to put up 300 salmon this summer for his kennel, but he only got about 100. Donations from friends helped make up some of the difference.
Solomon Olick is another Kwethluk musher hit by the restrictions.
“Whenever there’s closures on the rivers for fishing it affects the whole year. Salmon is one of the biggest things that we feed our dogs,” said Olick.
Both Olick and Pavilla are racing in this year’s Bogus Creek 150. All the mushers in the race are from Bethel or the surrounding villages and rely heavily on fish to feed their dogs, but a low king run last summer restricted nets, mesh size, and often kept nets out of the river. When the king escapement numbers finally reached escapement thresholds in late July, managers credited the “sacrifice and the patience” of subsistence fishermen. Mushers competing in the Bogus Creek 150 said that sacrifice extended to their teams.
Several mushers are considering fishing silver salmon after the king run next summer so that their dogs can continue to run on fish.
The preliminary forecast for Chinook in the Kuskokwim River this summer is out. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are predicting that between 140,000 and 190,000 kings will return to the Kuskokwim, which may be enough to provide for escapement and subsistence needs.