The lower Kuskokwim River is opening to gillnets on Friday, June 29 just as a surge of king salmon appear to be swimming by. The timing could result in a high harvest of kings during a year when conservation was the intent.
The numbers of king salmon usually begin to taper off at this point in June, but the run passing Bethel continues to build.
At the same time, the ratio of kings to chum and red salmon in the river is lower than usually seen this at time of year. That means that there are more kings in the water relative to these other salmon species than usual in late June. At this time of year, there are historically an average of 13.5 red and chum salmon caught for every king salmon in the lower river. Currently there are only 3.79 red and chum salmon being caught for every king salmon near Bethel.
Managers caution that these numbers do not indicate that the king run is arriving in greater abundance than initially projected. It also does not mean that the king run is late. The timing of the king run is tracking with historical averages, as is the chum salmon run. However, the red salmon run appears to be arriving later than usual.
The previous opening in federal waters on Sunday resulted in a greater king salmon harvest than managers had predicted. Managers had forecast that 4,000 kings would be taken. Instead, estimates indicate that more than 6,000 were harvested in the lower river. Sunday’s harvest likely means that the federal and tribal escapement goal for kings this season will not be met, and today’s harvest is expected to take the Kuskokwim even further from that goal.
Federal and tribal managers entered the season with a harvest allocation of 16,000 king salmon, but estimates indicate that about 18,000 kings have been harvested from the lower river. Total drainage harvests could end up at more than 20,000 kings.
The federal waters of the Lower Kuskokwim river are open to gillnets Friday, June 29 for six hours from noon to 6 p.m. The opening is designed for families who have not been able to fish during previous openers due to unfortunate circumstances like recent deaths, boat issues, and health problems.