State waters of the Kuskokwim River could open 24/7 to gillnets beginning Tuesday, June 26th. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game made the recommendation to the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group in response to reports of low fishing harvests in the upper river due to high water.
The Kuskokwim River rose to its highest level in 10 years this week, reaching nearly 8.81 feet near the community of Crooked Creek. High water makes fishing more difficult by creating more room for fish to dodge nets, more debris to snag those nets, and a stronger current.
Aaron Tiernan manages the river's state waters for Fish and Game and intends to open the upper river to 6-inch-or-less mesh gillnets to help subsistence users meet their harvest needs.
“That’s my initial plan right now," Tiernan said, "but I want to wait to see how these numbers progress.”
What that means is that if the number of king salmon passing Bethel drops or if the ratio of red and chum salmon to kings narrows then the opening might be postponed.
In the meantime, the state waters in Section 4, from Aniak upstream to the Holitna River mouth, remain open to king salmon permit fishing. And Section 5, from the Holitna River mouth to the headwaters, has already opened 24/7 to gillnets. Tiernan does not expect that harvest from the state waters will be enough to significantly impact king salmon escapement.
“The last few years the total harvest has been 2,000 fish and under, and there have been heavy restrictions as well in those years,” he explained.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 12,000 king salmon have been harvested from the Kuskokwim River so far this season.
Tiernan announced his plan at Wednesday’s Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group meeting, and the members unanimously voted to support his decision. Working Group members also recommended that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service apply these same regulations in federal waters from Aniak downstream to the bluffs below Lower Kalskag.
Refuge Manager Ken Stahllnecker said that he will consider the recommendation on Friday when he meets with the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. This week Stahllnecker, in consultation with the Fish Commission, already decided to extend fishing openings in the Kalskag area by 12 hours.