There’s a sigh of relief on the middle Kuskokwim River as the silver salmon have arrived and smokehouses are firing up. The run appears to be looking good, and the Department of Fish and Game says the river is ready for more commercial fishing.
The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group Tuesday heard from the middle river and beyond that people are beginning to meet their needs for winter. Barb Carlson gave a silver report from Sleetmute.
“They’re here and people are fishing them hard, and the weather is good. Right now we’re happy. They’re looking nice, they’re a little small, but they’re very shiny and very good quality,” said Carlson.
The Working Group had opposed some earlier commercial openings, but they voted unanimously Tuesday to support managers’ plans for another opening Thursday and possibly another early next week. Monday’s commercial opener, the first since July 21st, saw 187 permit holders deliver nearly 24-thousand coho salmon to Coastal Villages Seafoods.
Several people thanked the Department for waiting until now, when more than 60 percent of the coho run is thought to be past Bethel. Alice Kameroff in Lower Kalskag has begun to put fish away.
“I just wanted to thank the commercial fisherman for giving us a break up here,” said Kameroff.
What was expected to be a below average coho run is looking better. It’s above average at the Bethel Test Fishery and so far at the weirs tracking escapement to spawning grounds.
Managers won’t know for a while exactly how the entire river’s chinook salmon did, but several weirs are not looking good. Research biologist Kevin Shaberg contrasted the George River, which has made its escapement goal, and Kwethluk river, which didn’t.
“With that discrepancy at the two different weirs, it’s possible we achieved the whole river escapement goal, but right now it’s very uncertain whether we did or not, and if we did, it’s probably not by very much,” said Shaberg.
For several months, the Working Group and Department had been shooting for the middle of the drainage-wide goal 65-thousand to 120 thousand chinook. They say counts from airplanes reached those individual specific escapement goals, but they won’t know how many fish total this summer made it to spawn until later.
With that outlook on their mind, the group began discussion on the Department of Fish and Game’s upcoming review of escapement goals. There’s no exact timeline in place, but there will be public involvement over the winter.
In other action, the group will ask the Board of Fish to allow dip-nets to be used the entire fishing season, instead of just in times of chinook conservation.