Friday, January 10, 2014

Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group Makes Progress During the Jan 8 & 9 Meeting

January 10, 2014

Members of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group (WG) came together on January 8 and 9 to discuss management strategies for the 2014 salmon season, specifically in relationship to the recent decline in Chinook salmon returns on the Kuskokwim River. 

Most of the day on January 8th was spent discussing previous and suggested methods of forecasting the Chinook run, as well as what "went wrong" in the 2013 season, and what will happen differently in 2014. 

January 9th was spent discussing management strategies and goals for the 2014 season.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game suggested the following points in discussion of the 2014 preliminary management strategy:
Kuskokwim River 2014 Preliminary Management Strategy
•Close king salmon sport fishing.
•Tributary subsistence closures June 1 – July 25, similar to previous years
•Start the season on a subsistence fishing schedule, which would keep in mind the following:
–Close salmon fishing early in the season.
–Apply closures/fishing periods based on run timing and travel speed.
–Fishing periods restricted to 6-inch or less mesh size once chum and sockeye are abundant.
–Provide more opportunity (fishing time) in upper river sections.
–Cancel scheduled fishing periods if run assessment indicates abundance is not adequate to achieve escapement goals.
–Reduce closures if run assessment indicates adequate abundance to achieve escapement goals.

A specific schedule has not yet been released, but will be discussed and decided upon closer to the start of the season.

The take home message?

The 2014 Chinook run is predicted to be very similar to last year's run, which was one of the lowest on record.  Depending on the surplus available, opportunity for harvest of Chinook will be very minimal, to ensure escapement goals are met.  All fishermen should be prepared for gear restrictions and closures on the Kuskokwim.  Harvest of other salmon species as well as whitefish will be necessary to fill freezers for the winter.

The feeling in the room? 

Well it was one of concern I'd say.  Concern for the future of the Chinook salmon.  It was also a feeling of comradery: folks from different agencies and organizations and backgrounds all working together to accomplish the goals set forth by the WG, the most important being to conserve Chinook for future generations. 

Some of the objectives that the WG voted on to adopt, as suggested by the Kuskokwim Native Association (KNA), include the following:

1. Achieve the management objective of a Basin Wide escapement of 85,000 Chinook salmon, incorporating the uncertainty of Bethel Test Fishery (BTF) data.
2.  Provide reasonable opportunity for harvest of other salmon (non Chinook) species
3.  Ensure harvest opportunity will be equitable to all subsistence fishers on the Kuskokwim

Spokesmen from villages up and down the river all shared comments in support of the importance and necessity of conserving the Chinook population, and allowing the fish to make it to their spawning grounds.  A recurring theme in these comments was the importance of preserving a resource that is and has been vital to these communities, in order for future generations to be able to experience and treasure the Chinook as has been done since before any of our times.

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