The Kalskag area will now operate under different rules from the rest of the federal waters of the Kuskokwim River during subsistence gillnet openings. For the remaining fishing season, openings along the Kalskag area will last 12 hours longer than the rest of the lower river. This extension will apply from just downstream of Lower Kalskag up to the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge boundary at Aniak, encompassing around 50 miles of the Kuskokwim River.
Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge Manager Ken Stahlnecker oversees the Kuskokwim federal waters and made the decision on Tuesday in consultation with Kalskag fishermen and the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
“The arguments that were used were that the fishing opportunities there, as far as good locations and so forth, are limited," Stahlnecker explained. "The number of chinook that you see in the lower river certainly have not gotten up to that section of the river yet.”
Mike Savage lives in Lower Kalskag and represents the Middle River on the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group. He had attended the meeting via teleconference and supported the 12-hour extension.
“I’m relieved because we wouldn’t work as hard as we did the last period,” he said after the meeting.
Savage described working the full 12 hours of the previous opener and ending with few fish.
“I am happy we can take it a little more easier. Hopefully catch a little bit more fish,” Savage said.
He says that fishing near Kalskag takes more time than the rest of the lower river. Fishermen take turns drifting in the area’s few eddies, and spend a lot of time freeing and mending nets snagged by timber littering the river. With this summer’s high water, the eddies are smaller and the timber more abundant, further limiting fishing areas.
Opinions are often divided over fishing issues between different sections of the Kuskokwim, but Savage left the meeting feeling supported.
“At the end there, I thanked them because it wasn’t upriver or downriver," Savage said. "It was trying to help each other out, and I guess that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Stahlnecker says that he is issuing a federal emergency order to authorize the extension.