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State And Feds Say They Will Work Together To Prevent Confusion Around Fishing Regulations

Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Confusing. That word came up a lot in a meeting with state and federal managers to describe the state’s June 28 fishing opening. Both the state and the feds say that they need to work together to prevent more confusion in the future.

Six local fishermen called in to the state’s Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group meeting on June 30 to express frustration with the state opener. 

“The announcement was confusing,” said Elder James Charles of Tuntutuliak.

“It was real disappointing to see how they were contradicting each other and making it so confusing for everyone,” said Clarence Daniel of Bethel.

They were confused because the state announced a drift net opening on June 28, but federal managers said that it was illegal because the state did not have jurisdiction. 

Federal managers, along with organizations like the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, were asking people not to participate in the state opening. Meanwhile, state wildlife troopers were visiting communities along the river, encouraging them to go fishing, Sgt. Walter Blajeski told the working group on June 30.

The contradicting information led to fewer fishermen participating in the state opener than in previous openers this season.

Federal manager Boyd Blihovde said in the June 30 working group meeting that the state and feds should work harder to come to an agreement on management actions.

“So that we're not bringing the public into that disagreement and having to sort of have the public decipher what is legal or not legal,” Blihovde said.

Alaska Deptartment of Fish and Game Deputy Commissioner Ben Mulligan was also at the working group meeting. He said that the state announced the June 28 opener because it has a constitutional obligation to offer subsistence fishing opportunities when there are enough salmon to meet escapement goals. Mulligan said that outside of that hard requirement, the state is willing to work with the feds to reduce confusion for local fishermen.

“I think a cooperative and collaborative relationship is what is going to be called for, because at this point in time, there's obviously some differing opinions of legal authority. Now, this is not the place to hash that out. What is important, I believe to everyone, is that we take care of the resource while helping to provide that opportunity for the local folks,” Mulligan said.

Federal and state managers discussed having additional meetings with each other in the hopes of coming to a consensus.

Greg Kim is a news reporter for KYUK covering environment, health, education, public safety, culture and subsistence. He's covered everything from Newtok's relocation due to climate change-fueled erosion to the Bethel chicken massacre of 2020.