The state is expecting a bigger run of king salmon on the Kuskokwim this summer, but still well below average. State managers say they expect strong conservation measures to continue in 2015 to ensure enough fish make it up the river to spawn. Leading up to the season, managers are seeking early input to make the season a success.
On the bright side, state managers are confident that the Kuskokwim drainage made the escapement goal in 2014, a year with a weak run and unprecedented early season fishing restrictions. This week they announced their 2015 forecast of 96,000 to 163,000 king salmon, up from the 70,000 to 117,000 they predicted last year. Aaron Poetter is the Kuskokwim area salmon management biologist.
“Again, it’s going to be a well below average run, based on that, so we certainly need to be, again, conservative in the 2015 season,” said Poetter.
The 25-year average is double the forecast size, around 243,000 fish. King salmon have been in decline for several years. The fishery was federalized last summer and saw directed king salmon fishing closed, except for a brief “taste” through community permits. Heavy salmon restrictions were in place for May and June. Poetter says he and his colleagues have not decided on any specific restrictions at this point.
“If the forecast does come to fruition we should have a few more Chinook in the river than the 2014 season. It’s a forecast; we won’t really know until the season begins. If we start with an early season closure, like in 2014, it’ll give us the opportunity to be conservative for our approach to the season. It’ll begin to give us an idea of how the run is coming together- the strength of it,” said Poetter.
The Board of Fish will consider proposals in March for gear changes during king salmon conservation periods. One would require that whitefish nets be staked, another could limit the length of nets, and a third changes rules for fishwheels. Poetter says the department is hosting three days of meetings in Bethel, March 25th through 27th.
“We want to hear from the fisherman. We’ll talk about what the 2015 season could look like, and what we learned in 2014. We’ll have the Board of Fish meeting out of the way prior to the meeting, and we’ll have a better landscape of what our tools look like and what we can do,” said Poetter.
One day is set aside for a fisherman’s meeting. Another day is for the annual inter-agency meeting, usually held in Anchorage, to review the latest research. Another day is a meeting of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group.