Kuskokwim Silver Salmon Run Underway

Coho salmon are picking up at the Bethel Test Fishery. (Graphic courtesy ADF&G)
Coho salmon are picking up at the Bethel Test Fishery. (Graphic courtesy ADF&G)

Silver salmon are running up the Kuskokwim River and managers say the coho at the Bethel Test Fishery will soon be more abundant than chums.

They say it’s too soon to predict the run strength, but they note that the very early data indicate the run is shaping up to be average. But the fishing effort on the silvers may be above average.

At a meeting Wednesday of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group managers asked fishermen for their best prognostication of how intensely people will hit silvers this year. LaMont Albertson of Aniak gave his report.

“It depends on the weather, it depends on whether they’ll feel they will be successful if they spend $7.46 on a gallon of gas to go fishing. We have to bear in mind we had a bumper crop last year of silvers up here. If you don’t consider last year, and you consider the years before, I think people are getting a lot more silvers that they’ve done before. We were really depended on silvers last year, and people harvested. I certainly took advantage and harvested a good number,” said Albertson.

Following a big survey in July, the rough numbers from state biologists show that middle river communities plan to catch about twice as many silver salmon as they typically do. That comes after a summer of unprecedented king and chum restrictions.

Kuskokwim Management Biologist Aaron Poetter said after the meeting that his team is not anticipating any drastic changes now to the subsistence rules, which is basically open with six inch nets indefinitely. The big question is when to make the call on a commercial opening, which would be the first of the summer for the Kuskokwim.

“We’ve consistently had commercial opportunities in the coho time-frame. [We may be] looking at an average to slightly more subsistence needs and an average to slightly better run. If we project it as such and assess it in the same fashion there’s really no reason we shouldn’t have a commercial opportunity. It may not be a three times a week like we do on in the bay districts, but we’ll look and see what we can provide,” said Poetter.

The silver run is quickly advancing. Historically, 50% of the silver run has gone past Bethel by August 8th. The last few days at the Bethel Test Fishery have been the biggest of the year.

“It really comes down to can we provide commercial opportunity? Commercial is a very important aspect of the fishery, especially in the lower river with a lot of participants. That income, while it may not be much compared to other salmon fisheries statewide, it’s still very important economic stimulus within this region,” said Poetter.

The group also heard early results of a feasibility study for using sonar technology to count fish in the lower Kuskokwim. Teams identified two sites. One is located at the confluence of Church Slough and the Kuskokwim and another downriver of Akiak. Test fishing goes alongside the sonar so they can identify species. Next year they hope to operate a full-scale sonar site for testing purposes.