Once Again, Fishing On Lower Kuskokwim Will Be Federalized

May 17, 2018

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will manage the federal waters of the lower Kuskokwim River during the king salmon run of 2018.
Credit Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge

The village of Akiak’s proposal to move federal management of the lower Kuskokwim River to earlier in the season failed to get the nod from the Federal Subsistence Board on Wednesday. With even fewer kings expected up the river this summer, the Board has assured that co-management on the lower Kuskokwim will proceed much as it has in prior years and turned down Akiak’s plan to start federal management in May. 

Karen Clark, Deputy Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, introduced a motion for a June 12 start date with federal management of the fisheries ending on July 15. Clark thought that starting any earlier would hurt the complicated cooperative structure now in place on the river.

“Both proposals would allow the partnership to work together,” says Clark. “The proposal allows them to make all of these decisions versus the board making a decision. The partnership can work together to help address whether an opening two weeks ahead of time is an option.”

Co-management on the Kuskokwim began as a way to help build up the declining king salmon run. To help reduce fishing pressure on the kings swimming through the lower Kuskokwim waters in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, federal managers can limit subsistence harvest to those people living nearby. Under state law, subsistence would have to be kept open to all Alaskans no matter where they live. 

Mike Williams, who represents Akiak, was disappointed by the decision. He does not think that the refuge manager will take over management of the lower Kuskokwim earlier, even if people support the idea. 

“I don’t think that [earlier federal management of the lower Kuskokwim River] is going to happen,” said Williams. “But it puts Akiak Native Community in a position to work even harder to issue more special action requests, and we’re going to have to play that game.”

The proposal approved by the Federal Subsistence Board did support one aspect of Akiak’s plan, which called for establishing an allocation system with quotas and community fishermen similar to what was put in place in 2015. The board did not require it, but left the door open for the creation of such allocation programs provided that there was a consensus supporting them.  

Biologists underscored the need for continued conservation of Kuskokwim king salmon, sharing their most recent prediction that not enough kings are expected to swim up the river this season to support the 60,000 to 110,000 usually caught during an unrestricted subsistence harvest. State biologists recommended managing to meet the minimum escapement for the river system, rather than the higher escapement goals supported by the Alaska Intertribal Fisheries Commission, to help rebuild king salmon runs on the Kuskokwim.