BETHEL -- High emotions over restrictions that prevented Kuskokwim River villagers from catching the king salmon that usually line fish racks in summer and fill freezers in winter eased over the last week when skiffs were allowed to drift with larger gear.
By then, most of the kings already had moved upriver. Subsistence fishermen on the Lower River instead are hauling in whitefish, chums, sockeyes and the occasional chinook. Once-bare racks finally are being hung with salmon cut to dry for winter, though not in the numbers of years past.
Many villagers and Bethel residents say limits are necessary to save chinook runs. But debate continues over how to best manage the prized kings. Villagers argue for at least some chance to target them. Some want to help run the fisheries.
When the first window for driftnetting opened up June 20, pent-up desire for salmon was so strong that there was a near-logjam of skiffs.
"I've never seen the river like that, even in commercial days," Mary Sattler, a former state representative who lives in Bethel, said at a recent meeting of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group. The group advises fish managers about openings, fishing gear and harvests.
"You look out and you see 50 or 100 boats," she said. "You are so close you could see the expressions in the boat next to you."