Feds will take over Lower And Middle Kuskokwim beginning June 12

“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Via Flickr Creative Commons.
“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Via Flickr Creative Commons.

Beginning June 12, management of king salmon on the lower and middle Kuskokwim River will switch from state to federal control. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will hand over management to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Fishermen shouldn’t see much difference, though. When the switch happens the king salmon fishery will close, but these areas are already closed under state management. This same hand-off has happened since the summer following the poor king salmon return of 2013.

That’s because, by federal law, the service has to take over the fishery in times of low abundance to ensure that local people get subsistence priority.

The portion of the river switching management lies within the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge from Aniak down to the mouth of the Kuskokwim.

Depending on how the run is doing, the feds will announce gillnet fishing openings. Refuge Manager Ken Stahlnecker said that they’ve already got one planned on the first day.

“Which is looking like it may be a 12-hour opportunity on June 12,” Stahlnecker said. “We’re trying to finalize things, so I wouldn’t say it’s a guarantee at this moment, but that’s definitely what we’re talking about.”

Stahlnecker expects to allow more fishing opportunities than last year. The run forecast looks the same as the previous year, so managers are designating the same amount for subsistence harvest: about 40,000 kings. Last year, fishermen hit below that.

“We probably harvested about 30,000, so we ended up being more conservative than our management objective was,” Stahlnecker said.

The rules will also be the same as last year. Openings under federal law will be restricted to local subsistence users living on the Kuskokwim river drainage, or along the coast in Chefornak, Kongiganak, Kipnuk, or Kwigillingok. The gear restrictions will be familiar, too.

“Again, exactly what they were last year,” Stahlnecker said.

From the mouth of the Kuskowkwim River, at the boundary of the refuge, up to the mouth of the Johnson River, fishermen are allowed to use six-inch mesh, no more than 45 meshes deep or 50 fathoms in length.

Upstream from there, restrictions change. From the Johnson River up to the boundary at Aniak, the nets can be no more than 25 fathoms.

The restrictions are meant to conserve the Kuskokwim king salmon run, which is projected to hit below the historic average again this season.

The restrictions apply to the Kuskokwim River main stem and to the following salmon-bearing tributaries within the refuge: the Eek, Kwethluk, Kasigluk, Kisaralik, Tuluksak and Aniak.

Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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