On June 10, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced drift net openings on the federally managed portion of the Kuskokwim River for the same dates as the federal openings. Both state and federal openings are on June 12 and 15.
This action goes against recommendations from the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, a state advisory group made up of local subsistence users. In two separate meetings on May 3 and June 2, the working group recommended that the state not issue any fishing openers while the feds are managing the river.
Mike Williams Sr. chairs the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, and is also a working group member. Williams felt like the state was ignoring the advisory body during the June 9 working group meeting.
“To be treated this way by the managers is very disrespectful, and I do not appreciate that,” Williams said.
Mary Peltola, executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, also opposed the state’s actions, saying that she doesn’t understand “why there is such a strong desire to manage on top of federal management, which takes precedence.”
State openers would allow anyone who is a resident of Alaska to fish for salmon on the Kuskokwim, whereas the federal openers restrict salmon fishing to local, qualified subsistence users.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Nick Smith said that the direction came from the state commissioner’s office, which said that the state has to have its own openers.
“We, the State of Alaska, are still constitutionally obligated to provide fishing opportunities for all residents of the Kuskokwim River and the State of Alaska when there's a surplus of salmon,” Smith said.
Smith said that this year’s king salmon forecasts and initial harvest estimates indicate that the state’s escapement goals will be met. He said that’s why the state must offer harvest opportunities to fulfill the state statutes. Initial harvest estimates show that this year’s king salmon run is shaping up like last year’s, which was low.
This disagreement between the state and the federal government has played out before. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced state set net openings on the same days as the federal set net openings earlier this month.
Boyd Blihovde, the federal manager for the lower Kuskokwim River, has said that federal officers would be enforcing fishing regulations on the lower Kuskokwim River, and that federal openings are only open to residents along the Kuskokwim River.