Tempers flared at a Tuesday meeting in Bethel on the current state of subsistence fishing, with some people in the area promising to fish regardless of federal regulations aimed at protecting king salmon.
The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group held the meeting that lasted more than three hours. A number of villages participated by telephone, along with representatives from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages fishing on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers.
One restriction for subsistence fishing is the use of 4-inch gill nets that are 60 feet long or less. Many people expressed concerns with the 4 inch gill-nets are not working well. There are also restrictions for gear but set nets are still allowed.
Almost everyone who commented said the number of king salmon being caught is is quite low amid an array of state and federal fishing restrictions, which have led to concerns about lack of food for the winter.
“We are of course trying to save the king salmon for our next generations, but for weeks and weeks of restrictions there's going to be consequences,” said subsistence fisherman Fritz Charles. “I've heard from quite a few villages as well that they're setting out with rifles and shotguns.”
Violating the restrictions could result in jail time and fines. The chair of the meeting asked people attending to keep calm and spread that message to those not present.
USFWS officials say there's a chance they might soon change the gill net restriction from 4 inches to 6 inches. Many people said during the meeting that 6-inch gill nets are much more favorable for catching fish.