Fewer king salmon are expected on the Kuskokwim this year! Our king salmon population has been in decline since 2004. We have not made our king salmon escapement goals on many of the spawning grounds in the past few years. This is all very scary news for those of us who live on this river and depend on the resource for food and for those of us at the Kuskokwim River Interagency meeting in March. The news was coming from state and federal biologists and groups who monitor the salmon populations
The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group is made up of elders, commercial, sport, and subsistence fishermen, processors, federal and state agencies who work together on Kuskokwim salmon fish issues. Most of us are volunteers and all of us love king salmon and are working always for sustainability and conservation. It was very distressing news at that March meeting for us. What is the solution? Do nothing? If we as a people do nothing we will watch the numbers decline even further. We must work together. The other day at our ONC meeting I brought all of this up and made a few suggestions. One was to talk to newcomers to the area about taking fewer kings and in times of decline concentrate on freezing silvers for winter food. Encourage newcomers not to send out kings to people in the Lower 48. We must teach conservation and sustainability.
We all hear that we don't see the big kings anymore, and it's true. When Alaska became a state in 1959 my hometown of Bethel was less than 1,000 people, and all the Kuskokwim River communities were smaller. Now we have more people fishing with bigger boats, bigger nets and the fish don't have a chance. The Yukon is now regulated to fish with smaller mesh nets and they are selling their eight inch nets to who? Folks on the Kuskokwim. The gene pool for the larger fish is disappearing, but what can we do? Some have already switched to smaller mesh. Some suggest not fishing early to let the big females get by.
We must keep an eye on the high seas and bottom-trawl fishery and work on solutions there too. The bottom line is all Kuskokwim king salmon fishers need to be a part of the solution. Please contact me with your ideas and I will carry them forward to the working group.
Bev Hoffman lives in Bethel and is a part owner of Kuskokwim Wilderness Adventure. She can be reached at bev(at)kuskofish.com.
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