Tribal Fish Commission Seeks Management Role

The Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fisheries Commission met for the first time in Bethel. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.
The Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fisheries Commission met for the first time in Bethel. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

The path to unified management of Kuskokwim salmon stocks is uncharted, but along the way, the newly established Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fisheries Commission wants involvement at each step. That begins with tribal consultation in preparations for another summer of sacrifice. The commission’s inaugural meeting concluded Wednesday in Bethel.

Another weak run of king salmon is expected this summer after several years of decline. State and federal managers are planning a slate of restrictions on par with last years, which brought in the smallest king salmon harvest on record.

Delegate Arthur Lake of Kwigillingok wants tribes to be parts of the decisions.

“Management, not advisory. It’s our hope that state and federal managers and regulators embrace that,” said Lake.

The river will again be splintered between federal control below Aniak and state management above the community at the border of the Yukon Delta Refuge. What’s called a demonstration project for co-management is slated for next summer in the form of a federal committee with tribal and rural input on fish management, but this summer, the commission is pushing for tribal consultation on a level never seen before.

Commission Vice Chair, Nick Kameroff, of Aniak will be one of three chosen to meet at least weekly to consult with managers.

“Everybody hopes they’re received well. Of course we’re not going to have everyone happy, but I’m looking for the future of the resources, rather than my needs right now,” said Kameroff.

The needs are real for Phillip Peter of Akaichak looking at another tough year of closures.

“You mention 60 days, it’s really hard to swallow 30 days or 20 days or 10 days. It’s really hard to swallow,” said Peter.

A wide ranging discussion revealed a vast spectrum of ideas on what conservation means. Some delegates suggested using eight-inch mesh gear, which is designed to catch large king salmon or going back to the traditional wide open fishing schedule. Others pushed for a much more conservative approach.

Though not a delegate, Bethel’s Mary Sattler said the commission has a big opportunity and responsibility for the future of the at-risk king salmon.

“Our fishermen are so good at fishing, they’ll catch them all if that’s what the tribal fish commission wants them to do. The only way we can conserve this king run is if we say conservations starts with me, conservations starts with family, conservation started with my village,” said Sattler.

Jonathan Samuelson captured the commissions’ challenge in bringing together voices from the river. He represented Georgetown, but was raised downriver and upriver.

“We need to be mindful that we come from different worlds along the same river and be open minded and understand that people are going to have different options and different views. But that’s doesn’t mean we can’t come out of it with a untied voice,” said Samuelson.

The million dollar question is what federal and state managers do with a more vocal and organized tribal presence in another critical year.

Geoff Haskett is in charge of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska.

“This commission is going to have way more ability to influence decisions and discussions. We’ve been working on this for the latest month and a half, working with the state, trying to get as many comments as we possibly can. We’re not going to get everything right. But I need to let you know our intent is to utilize this commission to act upon the things we talk both and have more discussions. We’re trying,” said Haskett.

Closures on the lower Kuskokwim will go into effect beginning May 21st.