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:

SPECIAL SUBSISTENCE HUNTING AND FISHING RULES

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.

A Message from the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group

April 9, 2014
 
Since 2010 the Kuskokwim River has experienced the two lowest returns of king salmon on record – 2013 being the lowest ever.  Neither 2010 nor 2013 surpassed the lower bound of the desired drainagewide escapement goal of 65,000.  The 2014 return is expected to be similar to last year.
Because of the drastic decline of the king salmon, the Kuskokwim Salmon Management Working Group realizes that king salmon conservation measures are necessary to provide king salmon for future generations.
In an attempt to get adequate kings to the spawning grounds in 2014, the Kuskokwim Salmon Management Working Group supports the following measures:

  • No targeted king salmon fishing in 2014.
  • Commercial and sport fishing for king salmon will be closed.
  • Starting May 20 – subsistence salmon fishing in the lower river will be closed.
  • 4” mesh gillnets no longer than 60 feet in length will be allowed for the harvest of whitefish and other non-salmon species.  Whitefish nets should be secured on one end to the bank as is typical for whitefish harvest (incidentally harvested king salmon in these nets can be kept).
  • Dip nets to be allowed starting around mid-June to harvest chum and red salmon and other non-salmon species – all king salmon captured in a dip net cannot be removed from the water and must be released immediately.
  • In-season information will be assessed daily to determine at what point additional opportunities may be employed to harvest chum and red salmon (for example, the allowance of 6” or less drift and set gillnets during late June).

The graph below shows how the king salmon escapement goal, or the amount of kings returning to spawn, was not met in 2010 or 2013.  The minimum of 65,000 kings for the entire Kuskokwim River was barely met in 2011 and 2012.
 
This is why the Working Group members all agree that conservation measure are necessary to bring back the king salmon to normal levels...but it will take sacrifices by all.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group Meets in Anchorage to discuss Management during the 2014 Season

April 3 & 4, 2014


On April 3 & 4th , the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group (WG) met to discuss management strategies for the 2014 season, specifically in regards to the anticipated low numbers of Chinook that will return to the river.   Federal and state representation was present, as well as community members from up and down the Kuskokwim River. 

If you will remember, the 2013 return was the lowest on record for king salmon.  2014 is not expected to be much different.  Something that will be different, however, is the level of restriction to the harvest of king salmon that can take place this year as compared to last.  Gone is the optimism of last year – in its place is a very conservative approach to the season. 

Many on the river are willing to completely forego subsistence harvest of king salmon, to make sure that the fish are able to make it to their spawning grounds.  The idea being to harvest other species of salmon, to ensure that the Chinook remain untouched this year and can make a comeback in future years, allowing younger generations to appreciate them in all of their glory. 

Some others on the river are requesting that the harvest of king salmon only be allowable for federally qualified users, local to the Kuskokwim River.  A special action request is currently being deliberated and will be ruled on by the Federal Subsistence Board for this to take place.  If it should go through, in periods of surplus of king salmon, only federally qualified users living on the Kuskokwim River would be allowed to harvest king salmon  in the federal area of the Kuskokwim River (from Aniak down to the mouth of the Kuskokwim).  How this surplus would be allocated to those users is still being discussed (one example being a permit system). 

This is not a topic to be taken lightly, and the WG members appreciate that fact.  Following two days of heavy deliberation and discussion, several points were agreed upon in regards to the management of Chinook on the Kuskokwim River..  There will be no directed king salmon fishing and the season will start closed for subsistence salmon fishing. As for the chum and red salmon openings, managers are setting no hard dates for the first gillnet opening, other than it is anticipated to be in the last week of June. During the June king salmon closures, for the first time ever on the Kuskokwim, there will be opportunities for fisherman to use 5’ dipnets to target chum and sockeye. 

The WG is currently putting together an official informational document for community members up and down the river, so that everyone can be better informed about expectations for the 2014 season.  That list will be posted here as soon as it becomes available.

KYUK continues to follow this topic, and a variety of articles can be found on their website.  Here are just a couple of links to their articles:


Meetings are being held in Bethel on April 7th (at 10 AM) & 8th (at 1 PM) to discuss the special action request.  At these meetings, the public will have the opportunity to provide testimony and comments to the Regional Advisory Council and representatives of the Federal Subsistence Management Program as part of the decision making process.  Attend these meetings in person or by calling 1-866-560-5984 and the passcoade is 12960066.  You may also submit written comments by faxing 907-786-3333  or e-mail to subsistence@fws.gov.  Comments will be forwarded to the Federal Subsistence Board for its consideration; the board will meet on April 15th. For more information on the special action request submitted by the Native Village of Napaskiak, and the follow-up to that request, visit the following pages.