Although it’s nearly December there is a group of people in the region who are focused on salmon, specifically the future of the King salmon run on the Kuskokwim River. The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Group met today (Friday) in Bethel. The group is made up of representatives up and down the river. Also at the table were several state and federal managers. They were discussing the State’s new recommendation to change the King salmon escapement goals or the amount of fish needed to spawn for the run to be sustainable.
The state is recommending a lower overall escapement range, of 65,000 to 120,000 fish. That goal is quite a bit lower than this past summer, which had an escapement goal of about 127,000 fish. The State Department of Fish and Game plans to submit the proposed change to the Board of Fish at it’s meeting in January.
At the working group meeting, state scientists presented their reasons for the change, which basically revolve around new data they’ve collected that they say shows a more comprehensive look at the history of runs on the Kuskokwim.
But the working group did not support the new lower escapement goals, saying it might not be the right time for a change. The 2012 Kuskokwim King run was declared a disaster by the state because of historically low numbers.
Working Group member, Lamont Albertson of Aniak said, “I just can’t support it. I think it’s been a clumsy process so far. We should have had more time to deliberate. A change like this is too much change all at once.”
Casie Stockdale with the Association of Village Council Presidents said that AVCP did not support the new numbers either. AVCP sent a resolution to the Board of Fish requesting a delay until an independent review could be conducted and villages were included in the process.
Working group Co-Chair, Bev Hoffman, says she also couldn’t support lower escapement goals right now.
“We need more time and we need to involve the stake holders and make everybody feel comfortable about this process,” said Hoffman.
There was some support for the State’s new escapement goals from working group member, Mike Williams Sr. of Akiak . He said he wants to achieve optimum goals, and believes that can happen with the proposed numbers and with village involvement.
“I think with those 65 to 120,000 escapement goal, I think we can work around making sure that our King salmon are sustained into the future,” said Williams.
Greg Roczicka of Bethel also supported the state’s recommendation–as an interim plan–due to the time frame they had left before the January meeting.
“We have next summer coming at us,” said Roczicka. “I guess my recommendation would be at this point is we would accept these as interim and we would request the Board that over the next cycle, come up with an optimum escapement goal and work with the Department to come up with those numbers.”
Although the Working Group failed to support the state’s new escapement goals, they did pass a motion. It asks the Board to direct the Fish and Game Department to work with the working group to come up with an optimum escapement goal. That would differ from an escapement goal in that it would include other non-biological factors such as economics.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not support the state’s proposed escapement goals yet either. The feds submitted a letter to the Board of Fish saying they can’t support the new goals until they’ve had time for an independent review. At the working group meeting, federal managers said they are planning to have that review completed before the Board’s January meeting with enough time to come up with their position on the matter.