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Feds Keep Lower Kuskokwim River Closed, 5 Fishing Openings Announced In July

A gillnet on the Kuskokwim river
Katie Basile

Federal fisheries managers are holding onto management control of the lower Kuskokwim River into July. And they’re keeping it closed to conserve chum salmon, which are arriving in alarmingly low numbers so far this year. But along with the continued closure, federal and state managers announced three drift net openings and two set net openings in July. 

The drift net openings will be:

  • July 2 from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. (9-hour opening)
  • July 9 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m (12-hour opening)
  • July 16 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m (12-hour opening)

Drift Net Regulations:

  • 6-inch mesh or less
  • May not exceed 45 meshes in depth
  • May not exceed 150 feet in length upstream of the Johnson River
  • May not exceed 300 feet in length downstream of the Johnson River

The set net openings will be:

  • July 10 starting at 12:01 a.m. until July 11 at 11:59 p.m (48-hour opening)
  • July 17 starting at 12:01 a.m. until July 18 at 11:59 p.m (48-hour opening) 

Set Net Regulations

  • 6-inch mesh or less
  • May not exceed 45 meshes in depth
  • May not be operated more than 100 feet from the ordinary high-water mark
  • Must be spaced 150 feet apart from other set nets
  • Must have an attached keg or buoy with the fisherman’s first initial, last name, and address

Most years, federal managers relinquish control of the lower Kuskokwim River and allow the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to open it up 24/7 to gillnet fishing by early July. This year is different.
Biologists are expecting a low king salmon run, similar to last year’s. But on top of that, this year is shaping up to be the worst chum salmon run on record for the Kuskokwim. Last year’s chum run was extremely low as well. Therefore, both federal and state managers have agreed to keep the river closed to protect chum salmon.

Federal manager Boyd Blihovde proposed the continued closure of the river along with three driftnet openings at the June 30 Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group meeting. He called it a compromise between conservation efforts and people’s need to fish.

“Biologically, we would prefer to do everything we can to protect chum, but we recognize that people also want fish,” Blihovde said.

State manager Nick Smith initially opposed the feds’ drift net openings, saying that set net openings would better protect king and chum salmon. Smith had said that’s because set nets are well-suited to catch sockeye salmon, which are the dominant species in the river right now.

“Sockeye are very bank oriented, and when they start coming in in big numbers, they tend to push kings and chum farther off the bank,” Smith said.

Ultimately, the feds and state issued announcements that mirrored each other, including both drift net and set net openings.

The state is also requiring all chum salmon caught with fish wheels or beach seines to be released to the water alive until further notice.


Greg Kim was a news reporter for KYUK from 2019-2022.
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