As the Kuskokwim River king salmon run comes to an end, the Department of Fish and Game is looking toward a commercial chum opening in the lower river Friday. But in a year with unprecedented chinook restrictions and increased reliance on chum salmon, many middle river fisherman say it’s too early.
At a work session Tuesday of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, subsistence fishermen told managers a commercial opening now undermines the conservation mindset and sacrifices that the working group and others have pushed all year. Nick Kameroff is from Aniak.
“The more commercial fishing that starts there.. it’s a lot of boats, it’s going to dwindle our chums and reds and opportunity for other people on the upper river who have not yet met their subsistence needs,” said Kameroff.
Several middle river residents reported not catching as many chum salmon as they might expect this year. They say many are still chum fishing and plan to try and target more silvers this year.
Mangers are proposing a commercial opening Friday in lower Sub district 1-B which runs from 15 miles below the Johnson River the to the southern tip of Eek Island. The six-hour opening is not finalized yet, but managers expect allowing 6-inch gear.
Aaron Poetter is the Kuskokwim Area Management Biologist with the Department of Fish and Game.
“Looks like we’re sitting really good as far as fish that have moved into the river, the relaxation of some restrictions in order to provide subsistence opportunity, good abundances of chums moving in, processor availability,” said Poetter.
A preseason forecast pointed to 100 to 200 thousand chum salmon available for commercial harvest. The data this year indicate an above average chum run. There will still be incidental kings salmon caught. The commercial buyer, Coastal Village Seafoods, told the working group they would not buy king salmon caught, all would be sent home for subsistence use.
There was no quorum, so the group could not pass a motion. Co-Chair LaMont Albertson from Aniak said he wanted managers to hear a message from the middle river.
“For those of use who have talking conservation upriver, this is not viewed as a conservation move when you open it up. You can say it’s just for chums, and that’s fine and I understand that and I understand the statistics you use to justify it also. But in the true spirit of the way things have gone this year, and in the way the people in the middle river, upper river and even the lower river somewhat have responded, This is just the wrong year to start this soon,” said Albertson.
The working group will be talking long term in the coming months and discussing the possibility of a tier two chinook salmon permit system that allocates permits based on several criteria.
Biologist report that a few silvers at least are in early: the Bethel Test Fishery on July 6th tied the record for the earliest catch of a coho salmon.
The next working group meeting will be at the call of the chair.