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|
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.