First Kuskokwim Restrictions Expected May 21

Salmon strips drying on a rack in Bethel, 2015. Photo by Daysha Eaton
Salmon strips drying on a rack in Bethel, 2015. Photo by Daysha Eaton

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Expecting another poor king salmon run, the first fishing restrictions are expected to go into effect on May 21st. With the lessons learned from 2014, managers hope to bring enough king salmon to spawning grounds and allow for limited fishing along the way.

For the second year in a row, federal staff will manage day-to-day fishing on the Kuskokwim river from the mouth to Aniak. The first early season restrictions from the up to Tuluksak will go into effect May 21st. And whereas 4-inch whitefish nets were legal 24/7 last summer, this year a weekend schedule will be in place.

Neil LaLonde is the refuge manager and in-season manager during the chinook run. He says many people have bought their nets over the winter, and will be ready to fish.

“We feel that if we didn’t go to some type of schedule that harvest should be much greater with the sheer amount of additional 4-inch nets that are available on the river,” said LaLonde.

The schedule is expected to last five weekends, beginning Thursday, May 21st. Nets can go in at 6 a.m. Thursday and must be out by 6 a.m. on Sunday. Setnet fishing would be closed the remainder of the week. The closures will roll up the river, beginning May 28th from Tuluksak to the refuge boundary above Aniak.

LaLonde says the schedule came after visiting villages and talking with people this winter and spring and choosing the weekend rather than a more sporatic schedule.

“They would not have to pull nets in and out of the river every day. it leaves opportunity for honest people…boats can break down, family emergencies, things can happen. We think that will be easier on the users and be more fair,” said LaLonde.

Mangers will close fishing to all but federal qualified subsistence users – that is people who live in communities on or near the Kuskokwim, a provision that’s unique to federal management. Sport fishing will be closed.

A new set of gill net closures is anticipated for several tributaries. As of June 7th, there will be no gill net fishing on the Kwethluk, Kisaralik, Kasigluk, and Tuluksak rivers.

“Those tributaries have not done well specifically in this drainage over the last several years. that’s an additional measure that we think will help drainage wide escapement as well as those tributaries. We also took that into effect when we looked at all of the 4” opportunity,” said LaLonde.

LaLonde says subsistence fishing is open now with no restrictions on gear until the first closures begin on the lower river on May 21st. LaLonde says the plan for the first larger mesh openings in the latter part of June is will be determined once the run is in progress and they begin to see other species outnumber king salmon. He plans extensive engagement with the tribes and and the recently established Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fisheries Commission and continued work with the state, which runs many of the rivers’ monitoring projects.

The run is forecast to be slightly better than 2014, which saw the lowest subsistence take of king salmon on record, but conservation and making escapement will remain the top priority.

“Our view is it’s not a point estimate, but it’s the upper end of the escapement goal range and that’s what we hope to achieve in 2015,” said LaLonde.

Information on anticipated restrictions is available here.