Kuskokwim community King harvest permit program underway

A small community king salmon permit system is underway. (Photo by Shane Iverson / KYUK)
A small community king salmon permit system is underway. (Photo by Shane Iverson / KYUK)

A community permit system for a limited Kuskokwim king salmon harvest begins on Wednesday. 32 communities are eligible for the permit and so far 16 communities are signed up and a few still pending for the 7,000-fish king salmon permit fishery.

Neil Lalonde is the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge manager and in season manager.

“We’re upfront, we tell them we know this won’t meet your subsistence needs. However it does provide an early opportunity. Every village we talked to would like an early opportunity to to put some fish on the racks. It allows people to fish for a small amount of fish for traditional use and the nutritional ties that people have to fish,” said LaLonde.

Designated fishermen will go out this month to catch a specific number of king salmon to share with their community. The allocations are based on a 20-year harvest history.

Managers expect about 15,000 king salmon could be harvested this year: the 7,000 in the community permit system and 8,000 caught incidentally in other nets. Lalonde says it’s a conservative approach.

“This seven-thousand direct opportunity was built into knowing we potentially could have a worse run than last year, even with the numbers we anticipate, if we have a run similar to 2013 we will still meet the mid to upper end of the escapement range,” said LaLonde.

This years forecast is better than 2014’s but still below average. Managers will not reallocate the fish that are not caught. Several villages are outside of the refuge boundary but still plan to take part. LaLonde says the designated fisherman can travel to waters on the refuge.

“The other option is the villages above and below the refuge can partner with communities within the refuge boundary and they can designate fishers from other communities,” said LaLonde.

Of the seven thousand king salmon allocated, two thousand will go to to the largest community, Bethel. Greg Roczicka is Natural Resources Director for ONC, Bethel’s tribe, and is quickly organizing the Bethel plan. It includes 52 designated fishermen each fishing for three fish camps making up the approximately 150 Bethel area fish camps. He says the fish camps are at the core of traditional use here.

“Even more so, there is the intent of the substance law, title 8 of ANILCA and the state law. It’s to preserve the cultural integrity and patterns of use that are directly associate with the fish camp. The fish camp incorporates all of those values. That’s why it is what it is; it’s the passing down of knowledge, it’s family interaction, and it’s the an integral part of a subsistence way of life,” said Roczicka.

Each camp will get about 12 fish as each fisherman catches about 36 total. The Bethel permits will alternate on odd and even days to not target a specific part of the run. Roczicka says it’s not limited to tribal members. ONC is also distributing fish from the Bethel test fishery and maintaining a list of people. For those not associated with a fish camp, Roczicka says there will be a few fish available.

“We’re open to them calling us up and letting us know and we can bring them a couple of fish under this program as well. we have a list to that effect already, with the Bethel Test Fishery. We have about 200 names from last year and it’s expanded by about 100 more this year,” said Roczicka.

There will be additional officers on the river in the coming days are there are specific reporting requirements. Fishermen will be using 6-inch mesh gill nets instead of larger mesh nets to allow the larger female kings to go up river and spawn. Last year a much smaller permit system was in place. Four communities harvested just 82 fish.

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Ben Matheson is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

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