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Hunting & Fishing

Fishery Managers Announce Third Drift Net Opening On Kuskokwim River

Fishermen use a gillnet to target salmon in the Kuskokwim River near Napaskiak during a subsistence fishing opening on June 12, 2018.
Katie Basile

Editor's note: This story has been updated with information from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Families along the Kuskokwim River will have another opportunity to fill fish racks with salmon. Fishery managers announced the season’s third drift net opening based on an assessment of this season’s king salmon run.

Under federal regulation, the drift net opening will be Saturday, June 19 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Also, starting June 19 at 6 a.m., under federal regulation, the area between the Kalskag line and Aniak will be open full-time to gillnets until further notice. The Kalskag line begins just below Lower Kalskag stretching between the south edge of Uknavik Slough and then due east of the edge of the bluff line.

Under state regulation, this area from Kalskag to the headwaters will open June 19, just after midnight, at 12:01 a.m. At that same time, state permits will no longer be required to fish in subsistence section 4, from Aniak upriver to the Holitna River mouth.


Drift nets should be 6-inch or less mesh and may not exceed 45 meshes in depth. Drift nets may not exceed 150 feet in length upstream of the Johnson River, and may not exceed 300 feet in length downstream of the Johnson River.


Salmon spawning tributaries remain closed to gillnets. Non-salmon spawning tributaries are closed to gillnets from their confluence with the Kuskokwim to 100 yards upstream. The waters upstream of that 100-yard closure area will remain open for subsistence fishing.


Federal, tribal, and state managers say that the king salmon run looks strong enough to offer additional harvest. At the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group meeting on June 16, state biologist Sean Larson provided an assessment of the king salmon run so far. He described it as about average or slightly above average compared to the last 13 seasons, but lackluster compared to the historical average.


“It's one, not looking like a big run like we saw in 2019. And we're slightly ahead of where we were at this point last year,” Larson said.


The state’s assessment is based on numbers from the Bethel Test Fishery, the Bethel Sonar Project, and harvest estimates. Larson said that this year’s king salmon run is tracking very closely to the 2018 run, which he said saw about 135,000 kings. There were four June drift net openings in 2018, but he said that about 113,000 kings still made it upriver to spawn, reaching the state’s escapement goal. That number is also above the federal and tribal escapement goal for this year.


Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Executive Director Mary Peltola said that the decision to offer an additional drift net opening was also based on traditional knowledge. Peltola said that one of the best predictors of the king salmon run are migratory bird numbers, and she said that James Nicori, an in-season manager for the fish commission, observed promising geese returns.


“He said there was a pulse, and then a gap in their return. And then when the next pulse of birds came, there were more,” Peltola said.


Peltola said that Nicori hopes that there will be a second pulse of kings coming into the Kuskokwim that is bigger than the first.

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