Working Group to Dig into Kuskokwim Escapement Goals

by Ben Matheson on August 22, 2014

Kuskokwim salmon in 2011. Photo by KYUK.

Kuskokwim salmon. Photo by KYUK.

Commercial and Subsistence coho fishing is still happening on the Kuskokwim, but fishermen and managers are beginning to plan for future management strategies. A major part of that are escapement goals – that is the number of fish making it to spawning grounds. Stakeholders are eager to work on goal setting amidst a struggling Chinook fishery.

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The Department of Fish and Game every three years reviews escapement goals. They will meet early next year, but it’s a long process before any changes would be final at a Board of Fish Meeting in 2016.

At a meeting Wednesday of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, Ray Collins from McGrath asked for more data from the highest section of the river and a consideration of what the subsistence take is.

“and i don’t think we’ve got the information we need about the interplay because we don’t have weirs up here and we don’t have escapement goals up here,” said Collins.

The Department is uncertain whether Chinook salmon will meet the Kuskokwim’s drainage wide-escapement goal of a minimum of 65-thousand king salmon, but it doesn’t necessarily look good. A number of individual weirs did not make the low end of their goal this year. This follows 2013’s lowest run on record.

Working Group member Mary Sattler described conversations with fisherman about the health of the salmon stocks that contrasts to the escapement numbers that managers use to run the fishery.

“There’s something deceiving between what those of us who fish are seeing on the river and the numbers and the methodology used for calculation escapement and assessing escapement, and evaluating escapement, and I’m hoping there’s some avenue we can take that can lead us to a solution instead of just having meetings,” said Sattler.

In 2013, the latest round of reviews, the escapement goal was lowered for the Kuskokwim, based on loads of new data. Managers say at this point, it’s too early to know what future goals might look like. Jan Conitz works for the Department of Fish and Game.

“In general we try to avoid changing escapement goals unless there is a significant change in the information that we have that would warrant it. If there’s a minor change in the numbers due to recent years it may not warrant a change in the escapement goal up or down, but there’s no way to know at this point,” said Conitz.

Managers said there are other types of goals that working group members may be interested in that consider the harvest of fish. Chris Shelden works for the Department Fish and Game.

“We are only talking about escapement, the fish that are on the spawning grounds. that’s all we we’re talking about when we talk about escapement goals. When Doug [Molyneaux] talks about in river goal, it doesn’t say escapement in it. It’s an in river goal, a goal for how many fish we want to have in the river at a particular place at a particular time. And that is based on in this case human factors, which becomes an allocative issue,” said Shelden.

The Department of Fish and Game stays neutral on allocative issues, while the Board of Fish does not.

The Working Group has scheduled a work session for September 27th to study escapement goals.

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