Kuskowkim fisherman will have the option to use dipnets this summer to target other salmon during periods of king salmon closures.
The Board of Fish unanimously approved the emergency petition Friday morning. They also found an emergency warranted in a petition to reduce the length of driftnets by half, from 300 feet to 150 feet.
That’s a conservation method that would allow more flexibility in management and allow fish to go further upriver. The two petitions came from the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group.
Fishers will face unprecedented restrictions on subsistence salmon fishing this summer as managers attempt to bring more kings to the spawning grounds. With the dipnets, any king salmon caught must be released back to the river alive.
Area Management Biologist Travis Ellison told the board that there will be severe subsistence restrictions.
“To the point where subsistence harvest opportunity for chum and sockeye salmon could be reduced and impacted in a negative way,” Ellison said. “Having the ability to allow the use of dipnets for harvest of chum and sockeye salmon while live releasing king salmon, we’d have the ability to allow additional opportunity to harvest more of those chum and sockeyes without impacting the king salmon.”
The board utilized a state definition that allows for 5-foot circular dipnets. Board member Orville Huntington from Huslia spoke in support of dipnets.
“It’s obviously very hard times out there, regulations are confusing enough and I think it’s needed, it will conserve kings salmon and allow some very important catch during a time of year when it’s good to put fish away,” Huntington said.
The board moved to allow the fish and game commissioner to make the dipnet gear a permanent regulation. Otherwise there would be a 120 day window, placing the end of the emergency on July 21 if implemented immediately.
For the drift net restrictions, the idea is that nets half the normal length would be half as efficient. Ellison says that’s important considering the river’s fishing power.
“And when you have 50 fathom gillnets and several hundred boats at a time, could be potentially over 1000 boats at a time if we have short periods and there’s been long closures,” Ellison said.
The department sees more flexibility to allow more fishing time and potentially earlier fishing. It could also better distribute the harvest along the river, according to Dan Bergstrom from the Department of Fish and Game.
“It does provide a tool that could help spread out the harvest, because you have less efficient gear and more control on harvest instead of putting out the whole normal fishing gear that would go out there,” Bergstrom said.
The Kuskokwim working group will meet the first week in April and, with managers, attempt to finalize the schedule for summer subsistence salmon fishing.