With king salmon runs declining on the Kuskokwim River, at least one village has expressed interest in developing a hatchery. But without a government-recognized plan, the Kuskokwim can’t develop such a resource. A group is gathering to change that and has begun the long process of creating what’s called a "salmon production plan."
Such a plan would not deal with salmon management, but instead would lay out guidelines for producing more fish through hatchery projects. Such production plans were developed in most regions of the state in the 1970s and 80s, as depressed fish harvests increased interest in hatcheries among commercial fishermen. But the Kuskokwim never had much commercial fishing or this interest.
Then, in 2016, the village of Kwethluk applied for federal funding to develop a salmon hatchery. The application couldn’t be processed because the Kuskokwim did not yet have a salmon production plan. A multi-stakeholder group hopes to change that by the end of next summer, and it has the federal funding to create the plan.
The money comes from 2012, when the U.S. Secretary of Commerce declared a fisheries disaster that allocated money for the Kuskokwim River, the Yukon River, and Cook Inlet. The disaster declaration followed a string of low king salmon runs. The Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association applied for some of that funding to update the Yukon River’s salmon production plan; it also applied for funding to create a plan for the Kuskokwim River for the first time.
On Wednesday, a group assembled in Bethel to begin crafting this plan. It’s a wide-ranging group, with membership coming from various state, federal, and tribal organizations. Members include the Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission, Central Bering Sea Fish and Game Advisory Committee, and the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group. Ex-Officio members include the Association of Village Council Presidents, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Coastal Villages Region Fund, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
On Thursday, the group will continue its discussion at the Bethel Cultural Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend and provide input. Over the next year, the group will continue its discussion with visits to villages throughout the Kuskokwim.