The Alaska Department of Fish and Game decided late Wednesday to allow Southwest Alaska subsistence fishermen to fish for chum and sockeye salmon on the lower Kuskokwim River starting Friday, but kept a ban on fishing for king salmon in place through the end of the month.
Fishermen in the Bethel area have been very concerned in recent weeks, as a delay in the king salmon run has prompted state and federal action to protect the fish from overfishing.
“We have some early indications, we're at an early point in the run, but we have early indications that we're looking at low abundance of Chinook (salmon),” said Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell. “And that's a big concern, because that's the most important subsistence fishery in the region.”
Those bans have kept salmon drying racks empty when they should be full -- before flies move into the Kuskokwim River area and the rainy season arrives, during which fish can’t be properly preserved.
“For the subsistence fishermen, they fish for the salmon to store for winter food,” said Myron Naneng, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents. “And with fuel prices going up -- and last week's delivery fuel price of June 13th to seven dollars a gallon now, it's gonna have a multiple effect on the villages. In the villages the price of gasoline may go as much as eight dollars a gallon or more.”
While bans on fishing for king salmon on the lower Kuskowkim remain in effect, the chum and sockeye bans will be lifted for an extreme lower section of the Kuskokwim effective at 12:01 a.m. Friday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the rolling restriction will allow chum and sockeye fishing in the area for three days, at which point it is expected to affect a different area upriver.
Section 1 (Eek Island to below Johnson River) opens to <6” mesh gillnets from Friday June 22 at 1200am, for three days, ending Sunday June 24 at 11:59 pm.
Section 2 (Below Johnson River to Tuluksak: Bethel area) opens to <6” mesh gillnets from Monday June 25 at 1200am, for three days, ending Wednesday June 27 at 1159pm.
Section 3 (Tuluksak to Chuathbaluk) opens to <6” mesh gillnets from Friday June 29 at 1200am, for three days, ending Sunday July 1 at 11:59 pm.
Section 4 (Chuathbaluk to Holitna River) opens to <6” mesh gillnets from Wednesday July 4 at 1200am, for three days, ending Thursday July 6 at 11:59 pm.
Section 5 (Holitna River to headwaters) opens to <6” mesh gillnets from Tuesday July 9 at 1200am, for three days, ending Tuesday July 11 at 11:59 pm.
Editor's note: A video accompanying this story was removed because it inadvertently contained file footage of fishing on the Yukon River.
Email Dan Fiorucci