Regulations for the Kuskokwim River salmon fishery will look similar to recent years.
Who Can Fish
King salmon harvests on the lower Kuskokwim River will once again be restricted to federally qualified subsistence users. The restrictions begin on June 1, effective at 12:01 a.m. The restrictions apply to federal waters, from the Kuskokwim River mouth to the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge marker at Aniak. Federally qualified subsistence users are residents of the Kuskokwim River drainage and the coastal communities of Chefornak, Kipnuk, Kwigillingok, and Kongiganak.
The Federal Subsistence Board approved the restrictions on May 1 during a teleconference. The Akiak Native Community, the Organized Village of Kwethluk, and former Aniak resident LaMont Albertson submitted Temporary Special Action Requests to the board asking for the restrictions.
The federal regulations place the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge Director as the Kuskokwim River king salmon in-season manager, in consultation with the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
What The Run Could Look Like
This year’s king salmon run is predicted to be similar to last year's.
State biologists forecast 193,000 to 261,000 king salmon returning to the Kuskokwim River, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game 2020 Kuskokwim River salmon forecast. Biologists estimated that the midpoint of that amount returned in 2019, which was around 226,000 kings. This 2019 return exceeded the state forecast for that summer, and was 5 percent greater than the historical average. The increase comes after nearly a decade of king salmon conservation and sacrifice from subsistence families along the Kuskokwim.
Fishing Restrictions Beginning June 1
- June 1: The river will close from the Kuskokwim River mouth to the Yukon Delta Refuge boundary at Aniak.
- June 9: The closure will extend to the Holitna River mouth.
- June 11: The entire river, up to the headwaters, will close to gillnets.
Also on June 1, the following salmon-spawning tributaries will close to gillnets:
- Eek River
- Kwethluk River drainage to its confluence with Kuskokuak Slough
- Kasigluk and Kisaralik River drainages, including Old Kuskokuak Slough
- Tuluksak River drainage
- Aniak River drainage
- Aniak Box
All other Kuskokwim River tributaries will close to gillnets from their confluence with the Kuskokwim River to 100 yards upstream. Subsistence fishing with gillnets will remain open upstream of that 100-yard closure area.
Finally on June 1, any king salmon caught with selective gear must be returned to the water alive. That includes hook and line, fish wheels, dip nets, and beach seines. The river remains open to these gear types.
June Subsistence Fishing Openings
As the gillnet closures roll up the river, subsistence users will still have opportunities to fish. Three subsistence set gillnet openings are scheduled in early June, each lasting 24-hours from 11 a.m. to 11 a.m. on June 3 and June 6 in subsistence sections 1 through 3, and on June 9 in subsistence sections 1 through 4.
Set gillnets may not exceed 60 feet in length, 45 meshes in depth, and may not be operated more than 100 feet from the ordinary high-water mark. All set gillnets must have an attached keg or buoy with the fisherman’s first initial, last name, and address.
Correction: This article originally said that on June 1, the Kuskokwim River will close from the mouth to just above the Tuluksak River mouth, and on June 3, the closure will extend to the Yukon Delta Refuge boundary at Aniak. Those state regulations have been superseded by federal regulations. The article has been corrected to say that on June 1 the Kuskokwim River will close from the mouth to the Yukon Delta Refuge boundary at Aniak. Also, in the article the Eek River and Aniak Box have been added to the list of salmon-spawning areas and tributaries that are closed to gillnets starting June 1.