Two months before what would normally be time for king salmon fishing, Kuskokwim residents have a sketch of what the summer’s conservation measures will look like. There will be no directed king salmon fishing. For other chum and red salmon, managers are setting no hard dates for the first gillnet opening, other than its anticipated in the last week of June. The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group last week painstakingly came to a consensus on conservation measures.
After going through several draft fishing schedules this winter, the working group ultimately did not set a firm date for the first gillnet opportunity for other salmon species.
That’s because even with no targeted fishing for kings, there will be kings caught in 6” nets when they are used for chum and sockeye. The working group expects the first period to be the last week of June, but with the summer’s priority of allowing more Chinook escapement, it all depends on the run strength and timing.
Area Management biologist Travis Elison told the group that it’s hard to predict when chum and sockeye will outnumber the kings.
“As we show with the test fish data, there’s about a week period where just depending on run time, you might or might not hit that saturation point we’re looking for. From about the 18th to the 26th of June, it’s really hard to pick that date,” Elison said.
The first opening will come when there are sufficient kings moving upriver to spawn, and when chum and sockeye greatly outnumber the kings. During the June king salmon closures, there will be opportunities forfisherman to use 5’ dipnets to target chum and sockeye. Again, there’s no date set, but the dipnet fishery should open in mid-June sometime, according the motion that passed.
After 2013’s run brought the fewest kings up the river in history, managers and stakeholders are seeking to allow many more kings to reach spawning grounds. Bev Hoffman is a co-chair of the Working Group and says it’s crucial to bring that message home.
“People are going to be hurt by this, this is hard, and there will be a lot of venting. The situation is what it is and we can’t fish like there’s no tomorrow. Not on the kings, because there would be no tomorrow for the kings. And that’s the message,” Hoffman said.
There may be a couple opportunities for people to have at least a taste of king salmon. The group is asking managers to find a way to allow up to 30 king salmon per village, total, sometime in June. Tribal councils would be in charge of distributing the taste as they see fit. There are also plans to distribute fish caught in the Bethel test fishery to villages up and down the river.
As fishers work to feed their families, Co-Chair LaMont Albertson encouraged fishermen to take advantage of the river’s non-salmon species during the early part of June.
Managers anticipate allowing 60 foot whitefish nets with 4” mesh, but the group doesn’t want them catching kings. They will submit an emergency petition to require the 4” nets to be used only as set nets during a period in early summer. Some fishermen in 2012 had drifted with 4” gear, apparently targeting and catching kings.
Albertson says the conservation decisions were tough, but they were not decisions that could be put off.
“The decisions we make now will affect the population of the Y-K Delta, the human population, 10 and 20 years from now. This is a serious time and we need to take real strong conservation measures. I hope everyone getting this message will realize why we have to take these measures and I hope they’ll cooperate in every way that they can,” Albertson said.
To that end, at the close of the meeting, the members put together the Working Group message that they’ll take up and down the river to prepare fishers for a summer of conservation.