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Federal managers promise to monitor Kuskokwim salmon runs for subsistence catch

Lisa Demer

Federal managers have agreed to closely monitor Kuskokwim River salmon runs to ensure enough fish for residents who depend on it for subsistence, but at this point don't plan to take over the river, as they did earlier this summer.

The Federal Subsistence Board at a work session this week considered requests from villages and residents along the Kuskokwim to take over management of the river for the rest of 2014.

Upriver residents trying to fill smokehouses and drying racks were upset when state managers opened three brief commercial fishing periods last month.

Federal managers acknowledged that residents have already dealt with tough restrictions that prevented them from targeting king salmon early in the season, when federal authorities temporarily took control. Runs of king salmon have been declining, and the limits were designed to help preserve the king population.

“We know that the sacrifices that have been made have been extremely difficult and that it is very critical that all people along both the lower river and upper river be given every opportunity to meet their subsistence needs,” Geoffrey Haskett, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Thursday in a written statement on the board’s behalf.

Upriver residents have said they need silver salmon this year to make up for the loss of opportunity for kings. Some commercial fishermen, who come from villages and the Bethel hub and also fish for subsistence, have been pushing for openings to earn cash for gas and other essentials.

State managers say they are continuing to monitor the silver salmon push into the river and haven’t made any decisions on further commercial openings.

"We’re looking at the information on a daily basis," Aaron Poetter, area management biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game, said in an email. "It’s still very early in the coho run."

Federal managers applauded the state for keeping subsistence needs in mind and said that they will keep watching too.

“If conditions change, the board will take action quickly to ensure that a priority for subsistence users is provided and protected,” the statement said.