There’s a new fishing permit on the Kuskokwim River that, for the first time, will allow fishermen to harvest king salmon in the upper Kuskokwim during closures.
Permits are limited to one per household. They allow that household to harvest 10 king salmon throughout the course of the season during closures. Harvests will remain unrestricted during openings. Fishermen can use the permits from Aniak upstream to the headwaters. They’re available now and valid beginning June 12 during designated periods set by state emergency orders.
The purpose of the permits is to allow a minimal harvest of king salmon without impacting stocks during conservation. Fishermen can harvest kings for other permitted households as long as a member of that household is in the boat and carrying the permit. The permits are free and must be picked up in person from a designated vendor along the upper Kuskokwim River, in Bethel, or Anchorage. Under state law, the permits are available to all state residents. So far, there's no indication that people outside the Kuskokwim are picking them up.
“We would expect that, for the most part, the permit holders are going to be local people who are used to fishing in this area and would expect to fish in this area this summer,” said Dave Runfola, Kuskokwim River Subsistence Specialist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Developing the permits took years. Upper Kuskokwim residents first proposed the idea in 2014. They argued that lower Kuskokwim fishermen had greater access to king salmon during times of conservation than did fishermen in the upper Kuskokwim. There were differences in fishing openings; the lower River has thousands of more people; and lower river fishermen get first pass at the run. Soon, similar proposals for upper river permits followed.
The next year, something happened that seemed to widen the upper river/lower river divide. In 2015, federal managers allowed a community harvest program for king salmon in the lower Kuskokwim. The lower river falls under federal jurisdiction, but the upper river falls under state jurisdiction, and state managers did not have the authority to allow a similar program in the upper waters. Suddenly, discussion of the permit proposals became more serious.
Local residents along the river offered input on the proposals during state advisory committee meetings. Generally, the lower river did not want a permit system, but the upper river did. In 2017, the Board of Fish approved the permit system for the upper river and gave the Alaska Department of Fish and Game a year to implement it.
“So it was a long and iterative process that involved multiple meetings, multiple members of the public, and multiple proposal ideas that came forward,” Runfola explained.
The permits became available on May 1 and they’ll be offered every summer until 2021. To read FAQs on the permits and find your local vendor, read this handout from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. You can also view a sample permit here.
This story has been updated to clarify that the permits can only be used during designated periods set under state emergency order.