The case of the missing salmon

by Sophie Evan on July 26, 2013

photo by Google

photo by Google

The case of the missing salmon, that’s what the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group is wondering. The group met on July 24th, Wednesday morning to get the latest subsistence, commercial, and sport fishing updates, along with the latest numbers from the Bethel Test Fishery, and salmon counting weirs.

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The missing salmon have not returned to the Kwethuk River this summer. Biologist Kevin Schaberg,

“not just Chinook that’s low on the Kwethluk, it every species are low at the Kwethluk, by a lot, what the causes of that are I don’t know, lots of different possibilities, but to have it be across all species.”

Working group member representing sport fisherman upriver, Lamont Albertson, added that in the ten years of running a guided fishing service, he’s never seen so few kings.

“ everybody understand the difference between presence and absence and there is an absence of kings on the Kuskokwim drainage this year, except on the lower parts of the river.”

Up River representative Mark Leary of Napaimute offered his observations to the case of the missing salmon.

” I’m pretty sure it was 2008, it might help to explain why the Kwethluk is so bad, in October of 2008, the river was ready to freeze, lots of snow in the hills, it warmed up, and it started pouring rain all the snow in the hills melted, the water level was crazy high, we couldn’t even go into Ulukaq for a while there was too much wood and water coming out, the weather finally settled down and we went to look in Ulukak, and it was like holy crap, the water had been running over the banks, even out on the tundra, there was massive amounts of gravel that was moved, I remember thinking at that time, I wonder what happened to all the fish eggs from that weather event, I’m wondering if we’re seeing some the affects of that weather event, it must’ve happened in a lot of the other tributaries too, there lots of things that Fish and Game don’t see cause they’re not here year round, like deep cold or high water events late in the season.”

Biologist Zack Liller says they are still collecting scale samples from the Bethel test fishery and weirs in other spawning streams within the Kuskokwim drainage, which will help to determine the parent year of this year’s returning salmon.

“right now the only age data that we have to speak of, is collected from the Bethel test fishery, we are just getting scales in from the escapement projects.”

So far, only 261 kings have been counted at the Kwethuk Weir. The working group is also concerned about the escapement numbers on the Kiseralik, which are also very low.

Biologist Ziller says they will have to wait for the end of summer before re-creating a 2013 run reconstruction, in order to determine escapement numbers for the summer of 2014.

“ the run reconstruction takes the inputs from the escapement projects, and aerial survey projects, and runs it through the model, and we combine that with the harvest estimates from the subsistence survey, to get a total run and total escapement would be.”

Upriver representative Barbara Carlson from Sleetmute was already thinking ahead to next summer, considering the case of the 2013 missing salmon.

“starting with closures and maybe opening with emergency order, instead of opening and closing it with emergency order.”
”I’ve had several people comment on, like you said Bev, we should have been tougher on our selves from the beginning.”

Chairperson Beverly Hoffman was approved to attend the Chinook Salmon Summit on August 16th in Unalakleet. The working group’s next meeting is Tuesday, July 30th. For KYUK news, I’m Sophie Evan.
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