On the Kuskokwim River, sockeye runs remain stable while Chinook and chum runs continue to falter
The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group meets each week during the fishing season, but those weekly meetings are starting to wind down along with the fish runs. The meeting was only at quorum for part of the time on June 6, and no actions were taken. Instead, subsistence users and managers focused on sharing knowledge with one another during the meeting.
The lion’s share of the chum, Chinook and sockeye runs are estimated to have passed by Bethel at this point. Chum counts so far are nearly as low as they’ve ever been on the Kuskokwim, while Chinook are looking better than in recent years, but still down overall. Sockeye counts, however, are looking up.
Many subsistence users who called into the meeting expressed surprise at how many Chinook they’re seeing swim up the river. But according to data from the Bethel Test Fishery, it’s still the sixth lowest run in the past 14 years as of July 5.
According to that same counting method, this is the second lowest chum run since 2008. The only run that was lower was that of 2021.
Local Elder Albert Kawagley said that according to traditional knowledge, the chum runs won’t get any better this season either.
“When I was growing up, my dad or my folks, my grandpa said July. Around July 4, that heavy run for chums. Then you get a smaller run after the fourth. Then it’ll turn silver,” said Kawagley.
Sockeye runs, in contrast, are a totally different story.
“You know, we’re seeing really, really great returns of these lake-run fish and, you know, pretty good returns of most places in the river run,” said state biologist Sean Larson.
Larson said that the sockeye runs to Telaquana Lake have been the best of all. He said that he’s not quite sure why the runs are so good this year.
“Sockeye have just been having favorable conditions out in the ocean or something,” said Larson.
So far, sockeye have been having their sixth highest run on the Kuskokwim since 2008.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been managing the river this year. It announced two openers last week, with restrictions that the organization hoped would lead to more directed targeting of sockeye. However, managers said that folks still caught Chinook.
Now that more of the Chinook and chum have passed through the river, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced three more openers for sockeye fishing.