A few months before the king salmon begin to enter the river, the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group met to set recommendations for an early season of conservation.
The state hasn’t finalized its summer management plan or made any sort of fishing schedule. They do, however, plan start off conservatively with the goal of bringing enough of the river’s weakened king salmon run up the river to spawn, on order to meet escapement goals.
The working group Friday recommended beginning the season closed, starting very early—May first. In addition, they recommended that managers limit 4-inch set net fishing just four days a week for 12 hours at a time. Working group member Bev Hoffman made the case for two 12-hours days each for set net fishing, but members voted it down.
“There were people targeting king salmon 24/7,” said Hoffman. “That’s why I put in two days.”
Many fishermen used set nets last year, and over a hundred were clustered near Bethel. While managers intended them to provide some fresh whitefish for the dinner table, some fishermen proved effective at catching large amounts of king salmon with the small nets. The 2015 forecast is again projected to be a weak run, estimated at 96 to 163-thousand fish, well below the average run of 240-thousand fish. Two of three weir-based projects with goals missed their escapement goal last year. If the run comes in on the low end, there are no extra fish for harvest, although some will be caught incidentally.
Also new this year, is a requirement that the set nets to be entirely within 100 feet the high water mark on shore. That’s intended to keep the nets out of the channel where king salmon swim. Greg Roczicka of Bethel said adding that language is a big deal.
“People are not going to be setting out up here or around Napaskiak or the choke points that were there before, they will not be able to target anywhere close to the level [of kings] they did last year with the requirement of 100 feet from the bank,” said Roczicka.
Working group members asked about the feasibility of enforcing a set net schedule. Bill Raften coordinates law enforcement efforts for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
“I think from the enforcement side, we certainly can do it, but I also see an awful lot of nets being seized. There’s going to be of in and out [of the river]. It’s going to be a lot of work, that’s not a problem. Everyone is going to have be really careful to make sure they follow those regulations,” said Raften.
The group did not make any recommendation on when or how the first six inch drift gillnet openings might happen. They discussed having openers concurrently on multiple parts of the river instead the usual rolling openings. They voted to recommend allowing the use of fish wheels throughout the summer. The state can also offer dip net fishing during king salmon closures.
There is still uncertainly about who will be managing the fishery day-to-day this summer. The Federal Subsistence Board will respond in mid April to several requests from village governments asking for federal staff to take over the Chinook run and other salmon fisheries.