The Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission signed a historic memorandum of understanding, or MOU, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agreement is the first formalization of co-management between the Alaska tribes along the Kuskokwim River and the federal government.
The full Kuskokwim River Intertribal Fish Commission, made up of representatives from village tribes all along the Kuskokwim, gathered at the Cultural Center in Bethel to take part in the Commission’s annual meeting, including the signing of the memorandum of understanding. Mike Williams Sr. of Akiak is the Chair of the commission.
“I’m really excited about the MOU, to work formally with the USFWS and the KRITFC, to make sure that our people have enough to eat and that we have enough escapement of our king salmon and salmon upriver.”
Partners in the MOU include the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Association of Village Council Presidents, and the Tanana Chiefs Conference.
The Commission was formed last May, following an initiative presented by Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior Mike Connor at the 2014 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. Conner’s initiative calls for federal managers to integrate tribes into the management of Kuskokwim salmon fisheries in federal waters. The MOU is the first part of a two-part project called the “Partnership Project.”
The second part of the project is the creation of a detailed management framework. The Commission has brought forward a proposal to be discussed by the Commission, the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, the Alaska State Office of Subsistence Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Since managers forecasted a better king run this year, the management framework includes a proposal by the Intertribal Fish Commission for a subsistence harvest of 40 thousand king salmon, over 20 thousand more than last year.
According to the MOU the Yukon Delta Wildlife Refuge manager, based at the Refuge headquarters in Bethel, will consult with the Commission before making management decisions for the Kuskokwim salmon fishery in federally managed waters. Commission member Greg Roczicka said they will try to integrate state managers into the plan.
“And they have not developed the management plan yet, they have said they wanted to have a ‘blended management,’ and they came out with the idea that their blended management would say that they’ll limit it to federally qualified users and let the state manage all the openings and closings. The state does not have the options for calling what some might say is an allocation or to the harvest shares that we’re trying to get equitably, federal does.”
The commission expects to hear back from federal managers on the proposal by Wednesday this week.