Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Letter to Georgetown members

December 9, 2014

Dear Tribal Member,
I am pleased to inform you that our environmental committee has been hard at work since the start of their term last February.  The committee has been very helpful in providing guidance for the growth and development of the GTC environmental program.    

Over the past year, the environmental committee has been working on establishing and prioritizing environmental priority issues, developing proposal materials for future funding, and giving guidance on the role the GTC is playing in the Donlin Gold permitting process and Red Devil cleanup.  The committee has also established a vision and mission statement for the GTC environmental department, listed here:

Vision Statement:  To have a community and environment where land, water, and subsistence resources are preserved and respected.

Mission Statement: To monitor and preserve the traditional tribal lands in and around the Native Village of Georgetown by being proactive in environmental issues, working together, and utilizing traditional and contemporary data and knowledge to accomplish goals set forth by the Tribe.

Environmental committee members include Buddy Kutch, Debby Hartman, and Renee Fredericks.  They were originally scheduled to serve a one year term, ending in February 2015.  At our most recent meeting, it was decided that barring any objections from tribal members, the term for these members would be extended through August 2015.  At the next GTC annual meeting, we will take nominations for any additional tribal members that may be interested in serving on the environmental committee. 

If you have interest in serving on the environmental committee prior to that date, or have any objections to the extension of current member seats, please contact the GTC office at 907-274-2195 or Buddy Kutch at b_kutch@hotmail.com.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

ATCEM 2014

October 28-31st,  2014

 Miracle Drummers and Dancers of Wasilla


To open the 20th annual Alaska Tribal Conference on Environmental Management, the Miracle Drummers and Dancers of Wasilla performed several songs.  Even conference attendees joined in the dancing, pictured above.  Also present at the conference opening were keynote speakers Senator Lisa Murkowski and ANTHC Chief Administrative Officer, Shana Hegna.  The message? Keep up the good work. 
Senator Lisa Murkowski addresses the audience at the 20th Annual ATCEM
Murkowksi encouraged conference attendees to use their traditional ecological knowledge in their work, and on the topic of backhaul, she offered possible solutions like the "adopt a barge" concept and assured her audience, "I am committed to tackling this issue with you". 
Shana had several take home messages as well -  Teach your children the importance of caring for our environment and the resources provided to us, the importance of taking care of our elders, reinforce the traditional values of caring for our land.  
The great thing about ATCEM?  Everyone has a different experience.  All attendees can get out of the conference the needs that are specific to their programs.   With six tracks to pick from (Water quality, Air quality and healthy homes, Solid waste and brownfields, LEO and climate change, Program sustainability, and Bag of Tricks), the knowledge and experiences shared is vast.  I attended many breakout sessions each day, not following any specific tract, and I'd like to share here just a few highlights from my experience.

Each morning, several EPA Project Officers took the time to meet with their region to share new information, and answer any questions related to the information.   A big topic included the FY16 IGAP funding announcement, which can be found at this link.  Several new requirements are in play this year, contact your project officer if you weren't able to attend these sessions.  Important dates to remember?

Important Dates for FY16 GAP Applications
Two of our favorites over at ANTHC, Desirae Roehl and Oxcenia O'domin, tackled the important issue of Food Security in a time of a rapidly changing environment.  Things to consider?
  • The availability of food
  • Preparation and storage
  • Safety
  • Confidence that it is ok to feed to your families
Oxcenia takes notes during audience discussion
The room was packed full of people who were all willing to share their ideas and projects they have been working on related to this issue.  I look forward to the launching of a new website that will list all kinds of subsistence foods from moose to berries to salmon, and things to look for and consider when thinking about food security related to each specific food source.
Desirae talks about the new website that will be launched soon!
Some folks wondered where to go when they see unusual things happening to their fish or berries, and Desirae encouraged those people to look into joining LEO, the Local Environmental Observer network.  Check out their link for more information: http://www.anthc.org/chs/ces/climate/leo/.

A is for Acidification, B is for the Benefits of Climate change, and C is for Carbon??
A new kind of alphabet was discussed by ANTHC's Mike Brubaker during this meeting.  The take home message here is that there is a lot to learn about climate change - not all bad.  The important thing is that we need to be educated and prepared to adapt to this changing climate.
The community of Kivalina knows all about this.  Pictured here is a defensive wall built around their community by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect them from coastal erosion. Read more about the issues they face here

Coastal Community of Kivalina, with a defensive wall built to protect them from coastal erosion
Photo by Millie Hawley
There were also some heated conversations at this year's ATCEM.  During the ADEC presentation on their triennial review, concerns were voiced about the human health criteria standards for Alaska residents.  The concerns being voiced at this meeting, and hopefully addressed in this round of reviews, is that the rate of consumption of fish for AK residents is way too low.  Listed as one of their top 3 priorities in this triennial review, ADEC has a big task ahead when determining how to address this issue.   More information on this issue can be found at ADEC's website.
All in all, the 20th Annual ATCEM did not disappoint.  In addition to all of the knowledge and experiences shared, this is a great opportunity to talk in person with others in the same field, and learn from each other's successes and challenges. They do a great job of organizing this event, and I would encourage any environmental professionals in the state to attend next year's conference.  Information can be found on the conference at their official website, http://atcemak.com/. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The State Pipeline Coordinator’s Office(SPCO) Hosts Public Meeting Regarding Donlin Gold Pipeline Right of Way Lease Application

October 15, 2014

Photo taken from Donlin Gold LLC Right of Way Lease Application, found here

A Public hearing was held on the AS 38.35 Donlin Gold Pipeline Right-of-way application on October 15 at the Anchorage Loussac Library.  Georgetown Tribal Council President Buddy Kutch was in attendance, along with GTC Environmental Coordinator, Kate Schaberg.

The hearing only applied to proposed pipeline right of way on state land.  The state gave a presentation, offered an opportunity for folks to get up and talk/ask questions of agencies, which was then followed by public testimony.

State Presentation

The SPCO Right of Way Leasing Act (AS 38.35) develops and administers right-of-way leases for pipelines on state land.  It also provides continued oversight of leasehold for the life of the pipeline. In the state of Alaska, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System is the most well known pipeline that operates under AS 38.35.  There are 18 total operating in the state, and 3 leases issued that are not yet in operation.

Donlin Gold, LLC filed an application April 9, 2014 and are in the early application phase.  They requested use of state land for a  14 inch predominately buried natural gas pipeline.  It would incorporate 207 miles of state land from Beluga to Crooked Creek (mine site).  The other 1/3 of the land is on BLM and ANSCA lands.  The lease would be for up to 150 foot corridor for construction, reduced to 50 foot width for operations.

The SPCO Process

·         Notice of Application filed for 60 days

·         Hold Public Hearings (WE ARE HERE NOW)

·         Draft the Analysis and Preliminary Decision

·         Draft the lease with stipulations

·         Notice Analysis with Draft Lease for 30 days

o   hold public hearings (Spring 2016)

o   review and consider comments

·         Issue Final Finding (est. Fall 2016)

o   offer lease then, if final decision is to approve

The lease itself would identify the land the state is authorizing for use, establish rent and identify the process for extensions and termination.

Stipulations that go along with the lease are specific to that lease.  When a lease is issued, it does not mean they can proceed...the applicant first has to complete the “notice to proceed” process.  In this process, mitigation measures are taken, environmental protocols are established, design standards are adhered to, etc.  Basically, they have to have planning in place to construct in a specific way that makes all agencies happy.  If they don’t do that, even if a lease is issued, they cannot move forward with construction.

Public Testimony

Several people who work within the mining industry both in Alaska and internationally, offered comments of support for the pipeline lease to be issued.  They cited positive benefits such as economic development for the area, access to natural gas in the area lowering energy costs, minimal permanent impact to the area, decreased use of barges on the river, and local hire.

Representatives from the Iron Dog and Iditarod boards also spoke in support of the lease application being approved.  They stated that Donlin provides maintenance support for the trail and has helped benefit communities that are along the route.  They also mentioned that Donlin listened  to their initial concerns, and the proposed route was changed, which reduced the overlap by 50 miles.  There will be less than 10 miles of overlap with the trail, and they felt the historical trail/race trail would not be damaged.

A TKC representative also spoke in support of the project.  Their main reasoning was that the pipeline would reduce amount of barge traffic on the river, reduce the amount of diesel needed to be transported on the river, and provide a benefit to the ten villages that they represent.

Limited people were at the meeting from communities in the region that would be most affected by this project moving forward, but those that were there voiced concerns.

Concerns were voiced on behalf of Nikolai council members regarding moose hunting.  Ray Collins stated that the pipeline route would be in the foothills, along the same corridor that moose travel.  There is already extensive hunting in the area, where people get dropped in – after construction there will be a natural route along the pipeline for four wheelers to travel – further increasing hunting pressure. He suggested that they move the route a few miles further to the north instead of skirting the foothills, where moose travel.

There was one other member of the public who spoke in support of this suggestion, and wanted them to move the route 30 miles to the north from mile 150-185 of the pipeline.

Comments are due by 5:00 PM on January 28, 2015.

Written comments to:

            411 West 4th Avenue, Suite 2

            Anchorage, AK 99501

Email comments to:


More opportunity to comment will be available after notice of the analysis with draft lease (estimated out in Spring 2016).

For more information on Donlin Gold's application, please visit the SPCO website

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Georgetown Tribal Council 2014 Annual Meeting

Environmental Report

July 30, 2014

In case you missed it, the GTC held its annual meeting this year at Tribal Council president, David “Buddy” Kutch’s residence in Chugiak, AK on July 19th.  Seats B and C on the tribal council were up for election, and 33 votes representing 39.29% of the eligible voters were counted.  The counts were:

Seat B Vanessa Evans 18 votes, Kim Notti 14 Votes

Seat C Traci Fredericks 27 votes

Congratulations to Vanessa and Traci!

The Army Corps of Engineers was also present to give a project update on the potential Donlin Gold mine and their involvement in the Environmental Impact Statement.  Tribal administrator, Will Hartman, gave an update on financials and Buddy Kutch gave an update on the land committee and their work.

Environmental coordinator, Kate Schaberg, gave the environmental report.  This will just document some of the highlights from the year:

Kuskokwim Fisheries Report

In 2014, the Chinook salmon fishery on the Kuskokwim River in refuge waters (below Aniak) was managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  Waters above Aniak were managed by the ADF&G.  Many found regulations from duel management difficult to keep straight. Unprecedented restrictions were in place this year – prior to start of the run, the entire river was closed to all Chinook fishing.  The first subsistence opportunity was allowed in the lower river on  June 20th. Overall, escapement numbers appear better this year, but taking into account heavy restrictions – it doesn’t appear that the total run was much bigger than last year – just more restrictions allowed the fish to make it to spawning grounds

Red Devil Mine Cleanup

The BLM considered 3 different alternatives for “Early Action” cleanup, which would prevent tailings migration into Red Devil Creek and the Kuskokwim River (Early action is a short term clean up to address urgent concerns).  BLM Selected Alternative #4, which was to:  “Realign the creek adjacent to the tailings piles, line the sides with gabion (a retaining wall of stones inside heavy wire mesh) to prevent erosion, and construct a sediment trap downstream as an additional safeguard against tailings migration in the creek”.  Construction began in mid July and is scheduled to take place now through early August.

Kuskokwim River Watershed Council

New Staff were recently announced at KRWC!  Adrian Boelens took over as Executive Director for the watershed council. Nominations are needed for a  member and alternate to represent GTC on KRWC full board – August 20, 2014. 
The KRWC summit is tentatively scheduled for September 25-26, 2014 in Aniak. Elections to the KRWC executive board will be done at this time.

 Water Quality Report

The GTC currently has data from 2007-2014 for multiple parameters with a database/map that houses data from several tribes, including Kalskag, Napaimute, Georgetown & Sleetmute.  KRWC and Telida data will be included soon.  In 2013/2014, presentations were given at the Alaska Forum on the Environment, the NW Tribal Water Rights Conference.  Results and more information are available on our website.

Environmental Committee

The GTC Environmental committee currently consists of three members: Buddy Kutch, Renee Fredericks & Debby Hartman.  We held our first quarterly meeting on May 17th.  We put together an environmental assessment which will help get feedback from YOU on what your environmental concerns are for Georgetown. Our next meeting is tentatively scheduled for September 27th, at which time we will continue work on the Tribal Environmental Plan, including compilation of all survey results. 

Georgetown members fill out environmental assessment at the GTC 2014 Annual Meeting
For those of you who were unable to attend the annual meeting, surveys were sent in the mail with a return postage paid envelope and can also be found online at
Please complete the survey and submit or mail back by August 31st for entry into a drawing for a special prize!
We need your help to ensure our environmental vision is met:

To have a community and environment where land, water, and subsistence resources are preserved and respected.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or have any interest in participating in any of our environmental projects.

Kate Schaberg
GTC Environmental Coordinator

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Project Update on the Donlin Gold Proposed Mine- Environmental Impact Statement

July 19, 2014

Don Kuhle and Taylor Brelsford present information  to about twenty Georgetown members on the Donlin Gold EIS at the Georgetown Annual meeting on July 19th, 2014

Don Kuhle, US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) representative, and Taylor Brelsford, URS representative, gave a project update on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Donlin Gold project at the 2014 Georgetown Annual Meeting.  Donlin Gold representative, Mary Sattler, was also present to answer any questions.

They confirmed that they, along with the group of cooperating agencies on the project, are currently writing the Draft EIS.  The Draft EIS is the document that will address all comments made during the scoping period, and propose alternatives for the project.  Don started the presentation by giving a brief overview of the project area, proposed pipeline route, the mine site layout and transportation infrastructure. 

The scoping period was the time when URS and the Corps collected public comments of concern or suggestions.  Some of the more frequently included comments were centered around topics such as barge traffic, subsistence traditions, water quality quantity and flow, mercury, fish & wildlife, people and their communities and health impacts. 

Following scoping, the team began work on developing alternatives in the Donlin EIS, and continues that work currently.  The law that requires the development of the EIS is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  It requires that a review is done of a reasonable range of alternatives.  Using the environmental issues identified during scoping, alternatives are developed based on their potential to reduce impacts.  The EIS compares the relative impacts of those alternatives. 

Currently, the alternatives under development include:
  • No Action: the project would not be built, and this alternative would show what would happen should the project not go forward
  • Donlin's Proposed Project - this alternative is the proposed project as originally intended by Donlin Gold
  • Reduced Barging Alternatives - alternatives to consider include reducing the number of barges and/or shortening the distance needed for barging
  • Mine Site Alternatives - these alternatives look at different methods to use on site
  • Pipeline Route Alternatives - Considering different routes for the pipeline
While the group is considering alternatives, they are also conducting additional studies and meetings that will help fill some gaps in knowledge about the area.  Studies include a rainbow smelt spawning study that was done near Kalskag (More information here), a Kuskokwim Juvenile Salmon Investigation, and multiple Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) meetings held both in Aniak and in Anchorage. 

The Corps continues to give updates throughout the region, and will be looking into a possible tribal teleconference in the near future to give an update on the project to those who are interested.  The Draft EIS is expected out in the summer of 2015, at which time public comments will be encouraged.  Public meetings will also be held at this time throughout the project area to hear comments on the Draft EIS.

For more information, visit their website at www.DonlinGoldEIS.com or you can contact Don directly at Don.P.Kuhle@usace.army.mil or 907-753-2780.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Consideration of Sheefish Spawning Areas on the Kuskokwim River for ACEC Nomination to the BLM: Follow Up Report

June 13, 2014

Georgetown Environmental Coordinator, showing off a sheefish
By: Kate Schaberg, GTC Environmental Coordinator

At a Georgetown Tribal Council (GTC) meeting held in February 2014 with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding the cleanup of the abandoned Red Devil mercury mine, the GTC became aware of various studies that had been conducted on the Kuskokwim River related to mercury in fish tissue.  Matt Varner of the BLM presented information to the GTC, during which, he discussed fish movement and tracking on the river, and mentioned a possible spawning ground that has not been documented before.  The GTC was under the impression that the spawning ground was for sheefish, which later turned out to be false.

In May 2014, the GTC was contacted by the BLM who, as part of its Bering Sea – Western Interior Resource Management Plan (RMP) update, is seeking nominations for Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).  Nominations are being accepted until August 29, 2014.  According to the BLM, “ACEC designations highlight areas of BLM-managed public land where special management attention is needed to protect important historical, cultural, and scenic values; fish or wildlife resources, or other natural systems or processes; or human life and safety from natural hazards.” 

 Sheefish are a culturally significant fish species along the Kuskokwim River; they are harvested for subsistence use by many, especially in the middle and upper river.  Sheefish are often caught before salmon in the spring, and offer an opportunity for fresh fish early in the season.  In recent years, king salmon have been in decline and there has been an even greater shift in harvest patterns away from king salmon and more toward whitefish and other salmon species.  Sheefish spawning grounds have very specific needs and occur in small numbers on the Kuskokwim River, as has been documented over the last five years by Lisa Stuby.  Because of this, the habitat in and around the existing spawning grounds needs to be protected, to allow for future productivity of the species.  For all of these reasons, the GTC members and the GTC environmental committee felt that the areas of sheefish spawning on the Kuskokwim would fit the criteria for relevance and importance, which are necessary to be considered as an ACEC by the BLM, and decided to go forth with the nomination process.  The first part of this process was to conduct research on the topic, the area, and to gather necessary materials for the nomination.

After further contact was made with Matt Varner, it was realized that the area brought up at the February meeting was not, in fact, for sheefish.  It was instead for burbot.  In the meantime, I contacted Lisa Stuby, a research biologist who works for the Sport Fish Division of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) in Fairbanks.  In November of 2012, she published a report on sheefish spawning grounds on the Kuskokwim River (FDS12-65), which provides detailed information about spawning areas documented on the Kuskokwim River. 

Stuby documented three spawning locations on the Kuskokwim River for sheefish as noted in the study, located on the Tonzona, Middle Fork and Big River, all located in the upper Kuskokwim River area.  These are the areas the GTC intended to nominate for ACEC consideration (circled in green on map below).  Once the spawning locations were identified, next it needed to be determined what type of land they were located on. In order for the area to be considered for ACEC nomination, it needs to be on “BLM-managed public land”, as noted above.  Lisa Stuby provided the coordinates of fish locations from her study for dates occurring from 2009-2013, and those were plotted against land status in the region.  I created the map below, which shows that in fact, all three sheefish spawning areas are located on Native land.  For this reason, the areas cannot be nominated for ACEC consideration. 
That being said, it is our hope that special protection will still be given to these areas.  It is our understanding that Lisa has worked very well with the native villages and Tribes in the area, and has received a lot of local input and knowledge for her projects.  She has indicated that those living in the area have a strong desire to protect these spawning areas due to importance of the resource. A copy of this documentation of our efforts/findings has been provided to the villages in the area, so as to avoid any duplication of the effort.  We will also provided a copy to the BLM, despite the fact that the area cannot be nominated for ACEC consideration.  Perhaps the areas can still be considered when determining various uses for the land within the Bering Sea Western Interior RMP. 

After contact with several local residents in the upper Kuskokwim River, I have come to find out that they will be sharing their local knowledge about the areas to the Army Corps of Engineers and others, in hopes that the pipeline planned for the potential Donlin Gold mine will not affect these areas.
As a follow-up step, I will also meet with the GTC to find out if they are interested in researching the possible burbot spawning area referenced by Matt Varner, as a potential nomination for ACEC consideration.  However, based on internal conversations, it is believed that the area described is also located on Native land.
Are you aware of any areas on the Kuskokwim that might fit the criteria for ACEC nomination?  If so, contact me at 907-274-2195 and we will certainly look into it!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Chinook Numbers at the Bethel Test Fishery Are Much Higher This Year than the Past Few...But What Does It Mean?

June 9,  2014

The Upper Boundary line of the Yukon Delta National Refuge in Aniak: Below which is being federally managed (sections 1,2,3) and above which is being state managed (sections 4 & 5)
Unprecedented subsistence restrictions are currently in place on the Kuskokwim River in an effort by all to protect the king salmon run.  

Currently, as of June 9, 2014 – the following restrictions are in place (differences between state and federal regulations noted in bold text):

Salmon fishing is currently closed in all sections of the river.  Harvest of whitefish is allowable based on the following restrictions:
From the mouth of the Kuskokwim to the boundary of the National Refuge border in Aniak:   
Gillnets are restricted to set gillnets, 4-inch or less mesh size not exceeding 60-feet in length. Subsistence fishing with dipnet will adhere to State fishing schedules (AS 16.05.060). Chinook salmon incidentally caught in gillnets may be retained. Chinook salmon incidentally caught using all other gear types must me immediately released. Fish wheels are allowed at this time. All fish wheels have to have a live box containing no less than 45 cu feet of water, must be checked every 6 hours, and all kings caught must be released. 

From the Refuge boundary line in Aniak up to the headwaters:
subsistence fishing for non-salmon species with gillnets is restricted to gillnets with 4-inch or less mesh size not exceeding 60-feet in length and 45 meshes in depth.  Gillnets are NOT restricted to set gillnets in this area. Chinook salmon incidentally caught in gillnets may be retained.  Fish wheels are not allowed at this time.
So the question is: Is it working?
The answer is not so simple, but in simplest terms, from my understanding: It's hard to tell.
Below are the numbers from the Bethel Test Fishery so far, keep in mind they show catch per unit effort on a cumulative basis, so the June 8th number is for total so far, not just June 8th catches: 

Based on numbers alone, it sure looks like the restrictions are working, and that more king salmon are making it past Bethel than previous years.  That's a good thing, but how is the run doing compared to other years, and will escapement goals be met this year?

Here is a graph showing this year's number of cumulative CPUE for Chinook, as compared to 2009-2013, taken from the ADFG website.  Note the resulting escapement results relative to an escapement goal of 65,000-120,000 fish to the left of the graph.  2014 is shown in red. So yes, the numbers look great and so does the comparison graph. But still, never before have we seen these types of subsistence restrictions on the whole river.  In most years, there is usually a lot of subsistence harvest taking place at the same time, and restrictions this year might be making Bethel Test Fish numbers look bigger than they have in other years.  So how are we to compare?  

Unfortunately, I don't have the answers.  The next meeting of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group is to be held on June 17th at 1:30 PM in Bethel.  These meetings always prove to be very informational and valuable.  Input from up and down the river is encouraged and anyone can participate by calling into the teleconference number  1 (800) 315-6338 (MEET) Code: 58756# (KUSKO).

I am hoping that at the next call/meeting, in season managers will have a little bit more information on these numbers, and what it means for escapement.  In the meantime, we'll keep our fingers crossed that all of the effort being put forth by managers and users alike to protect this great resource will prove to be successful. 

Graphs and charts provided by the ADF&G, and can be accessed by anyone at this website. Map provided by FWS, which can be found at this link.


Friday, May 23, 2014


Protecting the King Salmon on the Kuskokwim with Fishing Restrictions

May 23, 2014

Area divisions on the Kuskokwim River.  All sections are accurate except for Section 3, which has been modified by bright red line (located at refuge boundary - at the confluence of the Kuskokwim and Aniak rivers)


There has been a lot of information given out from various sources and in various formats regarding subsistence fishing restrictions on the Kuskokwim.  A lot of confusion remains.  Here it is in simple terms: The river has been divided into sections (see map above for definition of those areas).  Restrictions are being implemented on a rolling closure basis - meaning they start lower in the river and move up river as time goes on with the intention being to move up river along with the king salmon run, providing them with as much protection as possible.. 
So here are the areas of the river, the expected date of closure and what gear restrictions will be in place ( Purple text is federally managed water, Green text is state managed water)

Kuskokwim River Mouth to Tuluksak (Sections 1 and 2): (Federal Special Action)
Effective 12:01 a.m., Tuesday, May 20, 2014 Chinook salmon fishing in the Kuskokwim River drainage is closed to all user groups. Gillnets are restricted to set gillnets, 4-inch or less mesh size not exceeding 60-feet in length in Salmon Conservation Sections 1 and 2. Subsistence fishing with dipnet will adhere to State fishing schedules (AS 16.05.060). Chinook salmon incidentally caught in gillnets may be retained. Chinook salmon incidentally caught using all other gear types must me immediately released.

Similar restrictions can be expected to begin on May 27th, 2014 for section of the river from Tuluksak up to the refuge border (just up river from Aniak at the confluence of the Aniak and Kuskokwim rivers).

From the confluence of the Aniak and Kuskokwim rivers to the Holitna River mouth:
Effective 12:01 a.m., Sunday, June 1, 2014 subsistence fishing for non-salmon species with gillnets is restricted to gillnets with 4-inch or less mesh size not exceeding 60-feet in length and 45 meshes in depth.  Gillnets are NOT restricted to set gillnets in this area.Chinook salmon incidentally caught in gillnets may be retained.

The Holitna River Mouth to the Headwaters of the Kuskokwim River:
Effective 12:01 a.m., Wednesday, June 4, 2014 subsistence fishing for non-salmon species with gillnets is restricted to gillnets with 4-inch or less mesh size not exceeding 60-feet in length and 45 meshes in depth. Gillnets are NOT restricted to set gillnets in this area.Chinook salmon incidentally caught in gillnets may be retained.

Things to Keep In Mind 

In federal waters: Fish wheels are allowed to be used during time when only 4 inch set nets are allowed.  All fish wheels have to have a live box containing no less than 45 cu feet of water, must be checked every 6 hours, and all kings caught must be released. 

Currently, fish wheels are not allowed to be used in state waters during the time when only 4 inch set nets are allowed.  The state is investigating the potential for allowing this... If allowed, it will be announced via news release.

Regarding the allowance of 4-inch or smaller gillnets: In the past, fishing for smaller non-salmon fish species has typically been done with set nets in locations where those species occur, typically off of the main channel of the river. Use of 4-inch or smaller mesh gillnets will be monitored. No targeting of king salmon will be allowed. This opportunity to harvest non-salmon fish will be discontinued if this gear is used to target king salmon.



Tuesday, May 6, 2014

News From USFWS To Kuskokwim Subsistence Fisherman

May 6, 2014

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service published an announcement today for subsistence fisherman in the Kuskokwim area.  That announcement can be found HERE.

On April 17, 2014, the Federal Subsistence Board adopted FSA 14-03, which closes the Kuskokwim Chinook salmon fishery with the exception of Federally qualified users with customary and traditional determinations.   According to today's announcement: "A harvest allocation of not more than 1,000 Chinook by USFWS permit only may take place in the middle of June.  No further allocation is projected for the remainder of the season."

More permit information will be made available to Kuskokwim area residents who qualified under the Section 804 Analysis by late May.

In regards to expected Fishing Restrictions, the announcement says this:

Subsistence salmon fishing on the Kuskokwim in 2014 will be closed early in the season.  During the salmon closures, the use of set gillnets with 4-inch or less size not exceeding 60 feet in length and 45 meshes in depth is allowed for the harvest of non-salmon species.  The announcement then goes on to list actions that are expected to take place in the season, with running closures moving upstream based on migratory timing of Chinook salmon.  Closures within the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge are expected to begin on May 20, 2014.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Kuskokwim Kings Will Be Limited to only Federally Qualified Users in 2014, says the Federal Subsistence Board

Consider Harvest of other species: pictured here, Georgetown member's canned red salmon
On April 17th, the Office of Subsistence Management (OSM) presented a follow up to a special action request submitted by the Native Village of Napaskiak to the Federal Subsistence Board.  Napaskiak's request was twofold - they requested that
1 - the taking of Chinook salmon in the Yukon Delta wildlife refuge be limited to federally qualified users during the 2014 season, and
2 - that those federally qualified users allowed to take Chinook during times of surplus be limited to a smaller number of villages in the drainage. 

OSM's job was to complete a Section 804 analysis, which determined that 32 of the 40 villages in the drainage would be eligible to harvest king salmon, should there be an opening on that portion of the river.  The exclusion of the other eight communities was based on 3 factors: customary and direct dependence on Chinook, local residency, and the availability of alternative resources.  This analysis was presented to the board, along with a summation of their biological analysis, a discussion of potential management tools and strategies, a recap on public testimonies over the past few weeks, and an allocation framework for the distribution of any harvestable surplus of king salmon in refuge waters.  ADF&G also made a presentation on what their plans for the season were, and several public testimonies were made from people living along the Kuskokwim River.

After several hours of discussion and public testimony, the Board voted unanimously to accept the proposal before them. In essence, the Chinook salmon fishery on the Kuskokwim River in refuge waters (below Aniak) will be managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service during the 2014 season.  Should there be a harvestable surplus of king salmon, allocation of those salmon will be provided to the 32 villages determined in the Section 804 analysis completed by OSM.  How those fish will be allocated is still not known - several options were presented to the board; the board, however, made no official recommendation, instead leaving it up to the inseason managers. 

Over the past four years or so, Chinook salmon have experienced a significant period of low productivity, insufficient to provide subsistence harvest or more importantly - escapement.  Since 2010, the Chinook salmon runs have been some of the lowest on record.  In 2013, there were only 94,000 fish total -  the lowest ever documented.  Escapement was only an estimated 47,500 fish.  When you compare that to an average of 239,000 fish for total runs in historic years, and an escapement goal in 2013 of 85,000 fish, well - the picture becomes a bit more clear. 

Dan Gillikin, Fisheries Biologist for the Kuskokwim Native Association, put it bluntly when he "emphasized the gravity of the situation" and stated that never before has escapement been so low or demand so high.  "If not addressed, collapse of the fishery is inevitable.  The picture for sustainability of Chinook on the Kuskokwim is uncertain at best,"  Gillikin said during his testimony to the Federal Subsistence Board. 

Other users from the Kuskokwim spoke in testimony to saving the Chinook as well.   Chuathbaluk's Tribal Administrator, Lisa Feyereisen  made a heart felt testimony, expressing the need to save the king salmon. She stated that "we need to do something drastic, and we need to do it now."  Following up with, "we will suffer together but we are an adaptable people."

The preseason forecast from ADF&G is estimating a total return of 94,000 fish plus or minus 24% (that comes out to between 71,000 and 117,000) - which would make the run similar to last year.
The Sustainable Escapement Goal for king salmon is a range between 65,000-120,000 fish.

What does that equate to?  The numbers say this: any harvestable surplus of king salmon for 2014 is probably going to be low. Restrictions will be greater than last year.
The Federal Subsistence Board limited the taking of any of those kings to only federally qualified users living in 32 villages on the Kuskokwim River.  How those fish will be distributed?  Yet to be determined.

As it stands, there are a lot of unknowns.  But here is what we do know: the Chinook on the Kuskokwim River need your help making it to the spawning grounds this year.  Regulations, restrictions or not - consider harvesting other species of salmon to fill your freezers this summer.  Protect this great species to ensure their productivity in years to come - allow for future generations to experience and treasure what you, your elders, and your ancestors have for many years prior.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Options For Getting Dipnets to Use on the Kuskokwim This Summer

 April 17, 2014

Urban and rural subsistence and personal use fishers using dip nets, bringing out their annual harvest here on the Copper River, photo taken from http://progressivealaska.blogspot.com
At the meeting of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group on Friday, April 4, the Working Group discussed options for people interested in purchasing dipnets to take advantage of a new regulation that will allow usage of that gear in 2014 in Kuskokwim River salmon fisheries, during times of conservation for king salmon.

One option that was discussed was the use of food stamps to purchase dipnets.  Dave Runfola, ADFG Subsistence Division, provided this website that spells out the rules for food stamp use:  http://dhss.alaska.gov/dpa/Pages/fstamps/howto.aspx

Which states:


In certain remote areas of Alaska subsistence hunting and fishing items may be purchased with food stamp benefits. Eligible households are given a specially marked identification card.
Even though some subsistence hunting and fishing items may be expensive, they cannot be purchased on credit and paid for later with food stamp benefits. Nor can they be paid for before the item is delivered.
  • Items that can be purchased with food stamps include hunting and fishing equipment such as nets, hooks, fishing line, rods, harpoons, knives, and other necessary equipment.
  • Items that cannot be purchased with food stamps include equipment used for transportation (including gasoline and motor oil), clothing or shelter, firearms, ammunition, and explosives.
Food stamp benefits can be used to buy most food items. Some groceries cannot be paid for with food stamp benefits. Here is a list of food items that CAN BE purchased and a list of items that CANNOT BE purchased with food stamp benefits.
Please help spread the word among Kuskokwim River residents so that they can try to take advantage of this program!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Special Action Request submitted to Federal Subsistence Board to federalize the Chinook fishery on the Kuskokwim River for 2014 Season – Summary of events that have taken place to date and what will happen next

April 9, 2014

"The Napaskiak Tribal Council asked the Federal Subsistence Board to close the Kuskokwim River drainage to the harvest of Chinook salmon except by Federally qualified subsistence users with a customary and traditional use determination for Chinook salmon.

Additionally, the Napaskiak Tribal Council asked the Board to allow only some Federally qualified subsistence users to harvest Chinook salmon, and that the determination of who will be eligible be based on three criteria:

(1)    customary and direct dependence upon Chinook salmon as the mainstay of livelihood,

(2)    local residency, and

(3)    the availability of alternative resources.

A determination under the three criteria is required in Section 804 of ANILCA, and is commonly called a "Section 804 analysis.” - OSM Draft Analysis

The context of the Napaskiak Tribal Council’s request is that it is likely the 2014 Chinook salmon season will be closed preseason to the harvest of Chinook salmon. They also anticipate that the feds will open the refuge waters to Chinook salmon at some point during June or July (to federally qualified users only).  If this occurs, the number of fish available to harvest will be small in proportion to the number of people living on the river. A Section 804 analysis is necessary to determine which of the 40 villages will be eligible to harvest Chinook salmon in Refuge waters.

 Following this request, there is a series of events that must happen and is currently taking place:

1.       OSM conducts an analysis and makes a general recommendation. (completed)

2.       Public comments and tribal consultation were requested at April 8 meeting, RAC meeting held April 7 in hopes to get RAC’s recommendation to the fed subsistence board. (completed)

3.       A plan for how how allocation of fish will occur, should there be any available surplus will be created to present to the board.

4.       Federal subsistence board will meet April 15-17 and be given OSM recommendation along with comments and RAC recommendations, and plan for distribution.  They will decide to do one of three things:

a.       Accept OSM conclusions and Napaskiak proposal

b.      Accept with modification incorporating comments

c.       Vote it down

5.       If they accept or accept with modification, they must decide a time frame that their action will take place

a.       Emergency (less than 6 months)

b.      Temporary (greater than 60 days, less than 6 months)

 So far, the following steps have been taken:

1.       OSM completed the analysis – it can be found at http://www.doi.gov/subsistence/proposal/special_action/upload/FSA14-03-RC-April-1-2014-public-review-draft.pdf  and the general conclusions are as follows:

"The conclusion of the analysis has two parts:

(1)    preseason, the Yukon Delta Refuge Manager, in consultation with other fishery managers, should close Refuge waters to the harvest of Chinook salmon except by Federally qualified subsistence users; and

(2)    the Board should allow residents of 29 of 40 villages in the Kuskokwim Area to harvest Chinook salmon from the Refuge waters, if there is a harvestable surplus. Presented from south to north, the villages are the following: Chefornak, Kipnuk,Kwigillingok, Kongiganek, Tuntutuliak, Eek, Napakiak, Napaskiak, Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, Atmauthluak, Bethel, Oscarville, Kwethluk, Akiachak, Akiak, Tuluksak, Lower Kalskag, Kalskag, Aniak, Chuathbaluk, Crooked Creek, Red Devil, Sleetmute, Stoney River, Lime Village, Takotna, Nikolai, and McGrath."

**Please note, the villages of Georgetown, Telida and Napaimute were excluded from the list of villages who would be permitted to fish during times of openings for Chinook in refuge waters (below Aniak).

2.  This analysis was presented to the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta Regional Advisory Council (RAC) http://www.doi.gov/subsistence/councils/ykd/index.cfm . The RAC passed the following motions (please note, these motions are not verbatim, but will give you the general idea):

Motion 1: To approve Napaskiak’s request to restrict the harvest of king salmon in 2014 to federally qualified users only and include the villages of Telida, Napaimute and Georgetown in the 804 determination.

Motion 2: Any harvest permits that may come as a result of reduced opportunity for subsistence use for 2014 will only be available to - people who are doing cutting/drying fish use patterns associated with fish camps - people who have been doing that action for 10 years, and – will be divided equally amongst all communities. (Motion passed)

Motion 3: To make it an emergency action effective May 15-July 15. (motion passed).

3.  Tribal consultation was held with OSM, and public comment was heard on April 8th.  A variety of comments were made from villages up and down the river; some in support and some against the proposal. 

What’s Next?

OSM will take all comments and recommendations made to the Federal Subsistence Board, where  a decision will be made. 

The Federal Subsistence Board http://www.doi.gov/subsistence/board/index.cfm will meet on April 15-17 to discuss and make their decisions.