The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group met for the first time this summer
Salmon fishing has begun, and the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group met for the first time this season to advise state fishery managers. The group is made up of fishing managers and stakeholders on the river. It votes on management actions it would like to see on the river and provides its recommendations to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The group had its first meeting of the summer season on June 8. It unanimously passed one recommendation: to open gillnet fishing in the upper Kuskokwim River from Aniak upstream to the headwaters. The recommendation came from Nick Smith, the lead area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Smith said that since the upper river caught so few Chinook last year with more limited gear, he wanted to give river residents greater harvest opportunity by opening it up to gillnets. Smith made another recommendation too. He said that he does not approve of the next two federally announced subsistence openings in the lower river, from the mouth upstream to Aniak. The area has two drift net subsistence openings next week: on Sunday, June 12 and on Thursday, June 16.
“I don't support these fishing periods being so close together and will not be issuing any mirrored fishing periods,” said Smith.
This means that the state will not also announce opening those days. Smith said that’s because early season Chinook fishing has greater negative impact on Chinook returning to spawning grounds than openings later in the season. The working group did not discuss or pass that recommendation.
This is not the first time state and federal managers have disagreed on the dates of fishing openings or who should have the authority to announce them. Since 2014, federal managers have been managing the lower Kuskokwim while Chinook are swimming up the river. Despite this, state and federal managers have traditionally announced concurrent fishing openings for the same time and dates. In 2021, the working group recommended that the state not announce concurrent openings, but the state did anyway. It also announced an opening that the federal government had not announced, which caused confusion among river residents.
At the preseason meeting this year, the group again recommended that the state not announce openings when the feds are managing the lower river. The federal fishing openings only allow local subsistence users to fish, but the state’s openings allow all Alaskans to fish the river.
Also during the June 8 meeting, working group members discussed fish counts so far. As of June 8, an estimated 110 Chinook salmon had been harvested in the lower river, from the mouth upstream to Akiak. And the sonar near Bethel had counted 450 Chinook. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game said that’s slightly fewer Chinook than last year.
According to state biologist Sean Larson, there is one species missing completely from the counts so far: chum salmon. According to Larson, the state test fishery has not yet counted any chum. Normally by this point in the season, he said that they would have counted at least a few.
“The last couple of years with the chum crash, that’s just not the case anymore. And I don’t suspect it’s gonna be a good chum run this year either,” said Larson.
The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group will meet each Wednesday during the summer fishing season.