Subsistence salmon fishing on the Kuskokwim will likely be very different this coming summer. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is proposing closing subsistence salmon fishing for most of June to protect the King salmon run. State biologists are presenting their plan in a two-day meeting of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group in Bethel.
The preliminary plan includes very limited fishing windows on the main stem of the river, all restricted to 6-inch gear. The lowest part of the river would get three, four-hour fishing periods in the month of June. From just below the Johnson River up to Tuluksak, there would be just one four-hour period in June. From Tuluksak up to Chuathbaluk, there would be one six-hour period in June.
Starting the first week in July, the main stem would see rolling openings for salmon fishing with 6-inch gear. That would start July 3 for the lowest part of the river, July 6th for section two and so on. The state is proposing to close fishing in the tributaries from June 1 to July 25. They also want to close king salmon sport fishing.
During people to be heard Wednesday, several spoke about the need for some fishing opportunity in June.
Tim Andrew is the Natural Resources Director for the Association of Village Council Presidents. He warned the group that residents may not support a full closure if they aren’t allowed to fish for species besides Kings. He said they could see another 2012 when fishermen fished during closures anyway.
“Whenever you do not allow a chance to harvest other abundant species over a long period of time, people are going to react,” Andrew said. “If people go in a long period of time in the summer in the drying season and they don’t see any salmon hanging in their racks, whether it be chums, reds, kings or otherwise, people start thinking about their winter food security. It’s really important that there is opportunity to harvest other species of salmon during that time period.”
Andrew suggested that the group consider using dip nets like fishermen did on the Lower Yukon River this past summer. Fishermen were targeting chums, not kings.
“It is extremely effective for the commercial fishery that occurred there,” Andrew said. “The King salmon that are caught are being released pretty much alive. I’m not aware of any circumstances where there’s any mortality.”
John Andrew of Kwethluk said that fishermen near his village are not happy with the proposed closure in June, which would give them just one, four-hour fishing period in the June.
“That’s not even enough time,” John Andrew said, “because as you know, even with experienced fishermen when we go out there, there are some days when we can’t get any fish in front of our river.”
State research biologist Kevin Schaberg gave an in depth presentation on the projection of the King salmon run which is expected to be poor again this year.
On Wednesday, the Working Group voted to support the following objectives:
-To achieve the management escapement goal of 85,000 Chinook salmon.
-To provide for reasonable opportunity to harvest other salmon species.
-To ensure harvest opportunity will be equitable to all subsistence fishermen on the Kuskokwim.
Although the group supports these objectives, they have not agreed on specific recommendations on how to achieve them.