by Mary Peltola
July 16, 2018
The 2018 customary fishing season in the lower portion of the Kuskokwim is winding down for most fish camps.
While many families are waiting for the Silver Salmon (Coho) to arrive, the batches of Kings (Chinook), Chums and Reds (Sockeye) that were caught, cut, dried and smoked are either being put away for the winter, or are almost done and on the last few days in the smokehouse.
Aside from the two whitefish (4” mesh gill net) fishing periods on May 30 and June 6, which were during the Front End Closure (May 25-June 11), there were five opportunities in federal waters to fish for food in the main river. The salmon fishing opportunities in the federally-managed portion of the Kuskokwim were on:
June 12 (10 a.m.-10 p.m.)
June 16 (10 a.m.-10 p.m.)
June 24 (10 a.m.-10 p.m.)
June 29 (noon-6 p.m.)
July 5 (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Federal restrictions were lifted on July 6, a day earlier than in 2016 and 2017 (in both of those years federal restrictions were lifted on July 7).
While restrictions have been a burden in the lower river, there were a few more chances to get out and fish this summer and many families reported being able to harvest more Kings than in recent years.
The KRITFC Commissioners, Executive Council, and KRITFC In-Season Managers chose to manage for a spawning investment (what others call an escapement goal) of 110,000 Kings. The preliminary Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) forecast for the 2018 total King run was for a midpoint of 167,000. The Fish Commission’s long-term goal is to rebuild the King salmon run by fishing conservatively and trying to reach the upper 75 percent of the ADF&G escapement goal range.
On May 16, the ADF&G shared with their advisory body, the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group (Working Group), that the 2018 preseason forecast for Kings (and retroactively for 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017) was lower than previously thought.
Because the Fish Commission already had been using conservative estimates intended to rebuild, the spawning investment goal of 110,000 did not change.
Having learned in 2017 that there are instances where ADF&G’s main in-season index at the Bethel Test Fishery can fall short of accurately assessing the run strength, the KRITFC In-Season Managers relied more on their traditional knowledge and the cues, conditions, and indicators they observed on the river.
For example, KRITFC In-Season Manager James Nicori shared at the June 22 consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that because fishermen were not catching salmon on the Kuskokuak side of the Kuskokwim in front of his fish camp, his understanding was that the King run was not yet at the midpoint, suggesting that the run was a bit late and there would be more Kings to come.
As it turned out, many more Kings came after June 22 and ADF&G has said the run was on the late side.
A new tool (referred to internally as the “P-star* model”) was introduced to the KRITFC In-Season Managers to help support management decision-making. The tool uses the run forecast, escapement goal, harvest estimates and both historical and current Bethel Test Fishery index numbers to predict how close we might get to reaching our spawning investment goal. The KRITFC In-Season Managers also factored in drying weather and feedback from fishing families to support their decisions.
The “P-star” tool is currently predicting about 100,000 Kings will make it to spawning grounds. While this is less than the Fish Commission’s preseason goal, the tradeoff is that families were able to get closer to meeting their needs by putting away more fish for the winter compared to recent years.
We are looking forward to hearing about the estimated King salmon escapement numbers which should be available from ADF&G (preliminary) in September.
In the meantime, I continue to enjoy seeing the bright beautiful colors of fish drying and the wonderful smell of smoke wood burning as I pass by fish camps along the slough where my family processes our fish. Quyana Agayun (Thank you to our Creator).
If you have questions or concerns you would like to share, please reach out to your community’s commissioner or Mary Peltola.
A conversation for Kuskokwim River residents to learn about and discuss in-season salmon management news, opportunities for fishing, closure information, and more. All are welcome to call in and participate. The teleconference will be led by Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commissioners.
P.O. Box 190, Bethel, Alaska, 99559
Mary Peltola writes for the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents thirty-three member tribes from communities along the Kuskokwim River working together to create a unified salmon co-management structure.