Kuskokwim fishermen looked for some relief from the king salmon restrictions at a Yupiit Nation tribal fish forum in Bethel on Friday.
Kuskokwim leaders on Friday heard about the widespread restlessness, fear of famine, and even anxiety over facebook pictures of various fish racks. Whatever the stress level may be, Yupiit Nation Chief Mike Williams and Working Group co-chair Bev Hoffman did not agree on whether subsistence fishers are at a breaking point.
“People need to at least put something on their racks and obviate the possibility of civil disobedience. We’re trying to not get there. I think we’re down to that point,” said Williams. –Hoffman: “No, we’re not’– Mike: That’s what’s we’re trying to avoid,” said Williams.
Fishing opportunity for other species of salmon is expected, but managers can’t yet commit to an exact day. Several fishermen Friday asked for a chance to get some kings. Father Alexander is from Kwethluk.
“If at least they can give us a week to fish, if not give us at least three days. Our elders used to say whenever they fish and catch at least 10, they used to say, there will be no hunger,” said Alexander.
After a full day of hearing from fishermen Acting Refuge manager Brian McCaffery alluded to the tremendous fishing power of the river’s 2,000 subsistence households.
“We simply can’t have a directed Chinook opening, even a four hour opening could take out 40,000 fish during the peak of the run which is why we don’t want to have an opening during the peak of the run. We want it on the backside when the chum and sockeye have increased considerably,” said McCaffery.
The Bethel Test Fishery numbers by most accounts look great. The index including Thursday stood at 252. Last summer it was July 10th before that abundance of fish had moved past Bethel. But with no real harvest below Bethel, no one is certain what it means. McCaffery is waiting a few more days for more data before setting a 6” gillnet opening.
“This is an early run, if it sustains itself, if these prelimary numbers continue to be positive, which is your hope and my hope, then we should be able to open before the 23rd, but it’s still too early to give you guys a date,” said McCaffery.
The small crowd of lower river subsistence fishers has mostly cleared before Mike Williams floated the general strategy that Yupitt Nation urge that the federal manager to open up for gillnet fishing as soon as possible, based on test fishery data.
As the season approaches the typical peak of the run, Bev Hoffman repeated the working group’s strategy that puts chinook escapement as the top priority and allows for harvest of other species in the coming weeks.
“Once we’re assured that we’re going to make escapement and the chums are mixing with the reds we’ll have incidental kings with the reds, you know that, we’re just not going to be able to fill our racks with kings this year and maybe not for a while, said Hoffman.
The Kuskokwim Working Group will meet Tuesday in Bethel to hear from managers whether enough fish have passed to look towards loosening the restrictions.