The Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge has declared federal management of the lower Kuskokwim River king salmon harvest. The refuge, in consultation with the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, has announced gillnet openings for the first half of June for the waters of the lower Kuskokwim that flow through federal land.
Set Net Openings
There will be three set gillnet openings along the Kuskokwim River, from the mouth to the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge boundary at Aniak. Each opening will last 16 hours. During these openings, the retention of kings is only legal for rural residents of the Kuskokwim River.
- June 2, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- June 5, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- June 9, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Drift Net Openings
There will be two drift gillnet openings along the Kuskokwim River, from the mouth to the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge boundary at Aniak. Each opening will last 12 hours. During these openings, the retention of kings is only legal for rural residents of the Kuskokwim River.
- June 12, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- June 15, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Regulations for the rest of the river, from the refuge boundary at Aniak upstream to the headwaters, will be under management of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Drift Net Regulations
- 6-inch mesh or less
- May not exceed 45 meshes in depth
- May not exceed 150 feet in length upstream of the Johnson River
- May not exceed 300 feet in length downstream of the Johnson River
Fishing During Closures
When the river is closed, subsistence users can still fish, but with limited gear, using rod and reel, dipnets, beach seines, and fish wheels. Any king salmon caught with these methods in federal water from the Kuskokwim River mouth upstream to the refuge boundary at Aniak must be returned alive to the river. Fish species other than king salmon caught with this gear can be kept.
Salmon-Spawning Tributaries Closed 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 are closed 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.
Why federal management is occurring
Another low king salmon run is expected this year. State biologists estimate 94,000 to 155,000 kings will return to the Kuskokwim. That’s similar to last year’s return, which saw low numbers for not only kings, but also chum salmon. To conserve the kings, federal management will begin June 1 and last until mangers determine there is no longer a king conservation concern this season.
Federal managers have overseen the Kuskokwim king salmon harvest since 2014. Federal regulators can be more restrictive than state management and can limit king harvest to only local subsistence users. The Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission consults with federal managers on king salmon restrictions. The Commission represents the Kuskokwim’s 33 tribes. Federal and tribal managers have set an escapement goal of 110,000 kings reaching their spawning grounds.