Fewer Fishermen Participate In Controversial State Opening, But Catch More Salmon
Fewer fishermen along the lower Kuskokwim River participated in the controversial state-issued gillnet opening on June 28 than in prior openings. Despite that, they caught more salmon than in the previous openings.
Surveyors estimated that about 220 drifts occurred on June 28. That’s less than half the number of drifts that occurred in the last opener. There were an estimated 381 drifts on June 12, 467 estimated drifts on June 15, and 511 estimated drifts on June 19.
The low participation in the opener was likely due to the ambiguous legal status of the recent opening. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued the opening, but federal managers said that it was illegal and illegitimate. The Yukon-Delta National Wildlife Refuge had declared federal management of the lower Kuskokwim River salmon fishery before the summer salmon season.
Fishermen who took the risk of participating in the state-issued opener caught 10,810 salmon, which was the most salmon harvested in an opening this year. Federal law enforcement officers said that they did not issue citations to fishermen participating in the state-issued opener on June 28.
Only about a quarter of the salmon caught on June 28 were kings. The majority were sockeye, and chum salmon harvests remained low. Up until the June 28 opener, the majority of salmon harvested were kings, and the sockeye run had only recently started to pick up.
The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, the local group that advises state managers, will meet June 30 at 10 a.m. The working group had opposed the state’s action to unilaterally open the river without waiting for approval from federal and tribal managers.