State Removes Permit Requirement To Fish In Section 5 Of Kuskokwim River
State permits are no longer required to fish using gillnets in Subsistence Section 5 of the Kuskokwim River. Section 5 spans from the Holitna River mouth to the headwaters of the Kuskokwim, including the villages of Stony River, McGrath, and Nicolai.
On June 3, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced that permits would be required to fish with gillnets in state-managed waters of the Kuskokwim upriver of Aniak. Using those permits, households could catch up to 10 king salmon per year per household, even while the river was closed.
In 2020, communities upriver of Aniak were allowed to fish anytime they wanted without a permit. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Biologist Nick Smith said that he heard complaints from people downriver that this was unfair because people downriver could only fish during specific openings. That’s why he issued the permitting system.
“From the perspective of somebody in the lower river, if they look up there and say, ‘Well, they get to fish 24/7, whenever they want, they can harvest as many fish as they want,’ like, that is a clear equity issue,” Smith said.
The permitting process faced some hiccups while rolling out this year. Smith said that miscommunication caused the Fish and Game office in McGrath to close during normal business hours for two days over the last week. That prevented people from being able to obtain fishing permits.
During a Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group meeting on June 16, working group member Kevin Whitworth, who is from McGrath, said that king salmon have not arrived yet in Section 5, the farthest section upriver.
“Not sure why we would be restricting those communities for conservation of king salmon at this point when there's no kings,” Whitworth said.
He also said that since salmon have not reached Section 5 of the Kuskokwim, people rely on fishing for whitefish and sheefish. But being unable to obtain a permit, he said that fishermen in his community were unable to even catch those non-salmon species. Whitworth also said that the permits are not necessary for Section 5 because communities that far upriver don’t catch many king salmon.
Last year, communities upriver of Aniak were allowed to fish anytime without a permit. Despite that, communities there harvested less than 1,373 king salmon, compared to 31,126 kings harvested on the lower Kuskokwim, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s 2020 post season survey.
The Kuskokwim management working group recommended that the state open up fishing without a permit in Section 5. The state rescinded the permit requirement in the section hours later.
The state will still require a permit to fish in Section 4. That is the area from Aniak to the mouth of the Holtina, including the villages of Chuathbaluk, Crooked Creek, Red Devil, and Sleetmute.