What To Expect From The ONC Salmon Monitoring And Fish Distribution Program

May 19, 2020

Salmon drying on a Kuskokwim fish rack.
Credit Shane Iverson / KYUK

It takes more than a pandemic to stop fishing. The salmon are on the way, and fishermen will be out on the Kuskokwim River this summer. With them will be biologists and harvest monitors. Orutsararmiut Native Council biologists and staff, among others, are getting ready to survey the salmon catch.

Biologist Janessa Esquible-Hussion will lead ONC’s surveys of Bethel-area subsistence harvests. The staffers collecting data are locals from Bethel and Kwigillingok. They’ll be adhering to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, and wearing masks when needed. They will also be doing fish camp surveys, but calling first.

“We’ll be calling all of our prior year fishers to request permission to go visit their fish camp, or conduct telephonic surveys as an alternative,” said Esquible-Hussion.

The harvest data collected can be used by managers during the decision-making process, along with other data sources. Esquible-Hussion said that that interested fishermen can help out by gathering age, sex, and length data, and collecting scales. Fishermen can make a bit of extra cash by becoming a sampler.

“The samplers only have to collect three scales above the lateral line of the fish and get the length, the sex, and just record some additional information about where they fished and what kind of gear they used,” explained Esquible-Hussion. “And we’ll pay samplers $5 for every king salmon that they sample.”

ONC is not the only community organization monitoring the fishery this year. The Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association and the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission will be hiring locals to conduct a community-based monitoring program in Akiak, Napaskiak, Kwethluk, and Tuntutuliak. The Native Village of Napaimute and The Kuskokwim Corporation are also doing harvest monitoring from Lower Kalskag upriver to Nikolai.

In Bethel, ONC will once again be distributing fish from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s test fishery. Like last year, the king salmon’s ear bone, or otolith, will be cut out for sampling. This year, Esquible-Hussion says, at least 50 king salmon ADF&G catches will also have their eggs removed.

“They are going to be collecting eggs to better understand how body size relates to the number of eggs in each female,” she said.

This is part of an effort to understand how the decline in fish size may be affecting the number of salmon returning in future runs.

ONC distributes the fish caught in the Bethel test fishery to Elders, the disabled, and widows. If you are eligible and have not gotten any of that salmon in the past, call ONC at 545-2005 to be put on the distribution list.