Law Enforcement Seized Subsistence Fish During Kuskokwim River Ban

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by Russ Slaten

Federal and state officials seized 21 fishing nets and over 1,000 pounds of salmon from subsistence fishermen in the Kuskokwim River on Wednesday.

The seizure comes during a subsistence closure in the lower Kuskokwim River. Federal officials said this year's salmon run is much lower than expected.

State and federal wildlife law enforcement conducted a joint operation on Wednesday to enforce conservation measures. During the course of the day, state wildlife troopers and US Fish and Wildlife officers handed out 33 citations, each equivalent to a criminal misdemeanor.

A little over a thousand pounds of confiscated salmon went to local charities, troopers said.

The native communities of Tuntutuliak and Akiak, who traditionally rely on salmon as a food source, issued statements encouraging residents to fish despite the government ban.

The Association of Village Council Presidents plans to meet next week to request that the state issue a disaster declaration in the region.

After experiencing low king salmon counts in the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers last season, federal wildlife officials predicted a poor to below-average run this season. Officials expected this year to see between 109,000 to 146,000 king salmon in the Yukon River, well below the average 200,000.

Test fisheries most recently reported seeing only 25 percent of the numbers of king salmon encountered at this point in 2010.

"State and federal managers predicted last winter that this would be a bad year, and the people along the river have known that. We've been communicating that with them regularly, but it's worse than we thought, at least unless the run is very late," said US Fish & Wildlife Service Spokesperson Bruce Woods.

Limiting subsistence is not made lightly, meant to conserve fish for healthier runs in the future, said US Fish and Wildlife Service officials.

Beginning today, subsistence fishermen are given a three-day opening to use a net no larger than 6-inches in diameter to fish for sockeye and chum salmon in the lower Kuskokwim River, giving fishermen more opportunities upriver as the runs make their way.

On the lower Yukon River, subsistence harvest was closed Wednesday and the state will notify fishermen by Sunday, when the next harvest period opens.