Latest Bethel Test Fish Numbers & Some Tired Of Eating Red Salmon

Here are the latest Bethel Test Fish numbers…and unfortunately the kings are still tracking below the previous two years.

Because the numbers are so low, AVCP held a special emergency meeting discussing the king salmon crisis on Thursday where many people expressed their concern and displeasure with recent federal and state management actions that are intended to allow enough salmon to get to the spawning streams.

Many people felt that illegal fishing was the right thing to do because “elders were crying for food”.  For that reason some declared that, “People will keep fishing no matter what.”

Salmon hatcheries were even brought up – which in Napaimute’s opinion is not the direction to go; hatcheries are fraught with too many problems.  Hatcheries of the lower 48 were found not to be the solution, but were in fact part of the problem with the decline of wild fishes.

What disturbed a few in attendance of the meeting was that some people stated how they were tired of eating sockeye and other salmon species, and that they, “aren’t good enough”.  Some elders declared that they needed kings (as opposed to other salmon species).

Here in Napaimute we’ve even heard where fresh and bright sockeye and chums from the Bethel Test Fishery have been offered to families at various fish camps around Bethel and they turned them down because they, “only want kings”.  The people from days gone by would never have done such a thing!

People must realize that when the king numbers are this low that honest-to-goodness sacrifices must be made for the good of the fish and good of all of us in the Kuskokwim.  It’s not enough to give up fishing for a few days if there is no benefit to the fish; it’s critical that enough fish get to the spawning grounds.

Right now the big females are starting to go buy and the larger mesh gear that some people insist on using will readily pluck them out.

Here are the numbers in graph and table form:

Note that the previous four years escapements for kings have not been met!

Recall in a recent post where the major factor influencing what is – or is not – coming back are the ocean conditions; there are other factors but the ocean’s productivity has been lacking.  http://www.adn.com/2012/06/23/2517571/decline-in-king-salmon-is-rooted.html

As you can see, the chum numbers look fairly good.

Improved Forest Health Along With Job Opportunities

The Napaimute Logging Crew made up of Tim Alexie, Joey Evan, Jacob Wise, Pete Kelila, Ben Leary, Jeremy Mike, Oscar Samuelson Jr. and Tucker Rohde have been working hard cutting, bundling and getting firewood wood ready to ship downriver by barge. The Village of Napaimute is providing a high volume of wood that will be burned in villages along the coast this coming winter to heat homes.  After this long, cold winter we just experienced and the ever-increasing price of heating fuel, no one has to be told just how important this is to everyone.

But is that the only reason Napaimute has chosen to log our land?

No – there is another need to cut those trees…and it’s every bit as important as heating those homes – it’s called forest health. As you can see from the following picture a high proportion of the logs already cut have heart rot, an indication that many of the region’s trees are mature or fully mature. As a consequence, many of the trees on Napaimute’s land are susceptible to windthrow, and that’s exactly what happened several years ago.  As those trees fall and die, the fuel load builds up increasing the fire danger.

This blurry photo shows the extent of wind damage we’ve seen over the years.

And the following photo shows how vulnerable many trees are to such events; in this condition, even without strong winds the majority of these trees would topple over anyway:

Leaners adjacent to an area cleared several years ago to reduce fire fuel buildup.

The following pictures show what a typical harvested unit looks like after logging has occurred:

Ryan Maroney and Forester Mitch Michaud with the NRCS looking at slash and estimate the acreage of logged land so far.

Here is what a segment of the forest looks like now from the air. No doubt to some people this may at first look like devastation because they haven’t seen this kind of activity in the Kuskokwim before, but it is a necessary management tool that will pay numerous dividends down the road. If this wood were not harvested today, there is a good chance that it might burn up tomorrow…or next year or the year after that.  Rotting trees like the downed tree in the picture below attract insects that could then harm the healthier trees causing a widespread infestation that would really pose a fire danger.

Here is a pile of wood processed by the harvester ready for transport to the river staging area.

Here’s the wood ready to be loaded on the barge for its trip downriver.

Over time, new willow and alder growth will sprout up in places providing forage and cover for moose and other species.  The log piles have even provided a vantage point for an eagle or two!

Besides providing much needed firewood and improving forest health, a socio-economic benefit is that it provides jobs and income for people in villages from Chuathbaluk to Kalskag – income that is spread throughout the villages.

Having seen these photos, it’s probably obvious that this is not easy work and the conditions can be taxing to say the least; mosquitoes can be horrendous, one day can be hot and dry while the next can be cool and rainy.

This has certainly been a group effort to improve the forest health of the region, but the crewmembers are not the only ones working hard from early in the morning to late in the evening.  Shelly Leary and her daughters have been keeping the crew content with hearty meals; they get the crew off on the right foot with hot breakfasts and  delectable dinners at the end of the day.

Traditional Council President, Brook Kristovich gets a firsthand look at the extensive windfall on both NVN and TKC lands

Kuskokwim Corporation Forester Clare Doig inspects bundles of wood ready for shipment to the Coast

Bundles of Napaimute wood awaiting shipment to the Coast by barge

 

Bethel Test Fish Numbers As Of June 25th

This information was provided at the June 26th Kuskokwim Salmon Management Working Group:

The latest numbers to be added to the BTF tables are 24 kings, 31 sockeye and 191 chum salmon (see tables below).

Unfortunately, the high water is hampering the Dept. of Fish and Game and USFWS’s efforts to install the enumeration projects. So far only the Tatlawiksuk River weir up above Stony River is counting fish and the Tuluksak River weir is expected to be operable this evening.  The Kwethluk River weir is in place but the water level needs to drop before the resistance boards can be put in place to direct the salmon through the passing chute; at this time the panels are sunk and fish are able to pass over them.

The photo below shows the Tuluksak River weir during a previous year of operation with the resistance boards in place lifting the downstream  panel ends even with the surface of the water – forcing fish through the counting chute to proceed upstream.

Tuluksak River Weir In Operation (USFWS photo)

When weirs cannot be installed at the beginning of the season or become inoperable later on due to high water events, the biologists do their best to estimate what may have been missed and passed upstream unaccounted for.  This is one example in some years of how difficult it is to have comprehensive and conclusive information during and after the season…and going into the next season for pre-season projections, etc.  Years when the weirs are inoperable much of the time make it difficult to validate the accuracy of the Bethel Test  or how effective management actions were.

Following are the latest Bethel Test Fish Tables as of June 25:

BTF Chinook CPUE as of June 25th

BTF Sockeye CPUE as of June 25th

BTF Chum CPUE as of June 25th

 

A Different Way Of Looking At The Catch-Per-Unit-Effort Of The BTF

Here’s a little different format for looking at the Bethel Test Fish CPUE’s that shows the likelihood of meeting – or not meeting – escapements.  These graphs are provided by the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game in the informational packets provided to the Kuskokwim Salmon Management Working Group prior to each meeting.

Clearly we are seeing a very low return of king salmon this year and will likely not meet escapement (didn’t meet them the previous four years!).  As they say, it takes a salmon to make a salmon.  Keep in mind that the king runs are pretty much depressed throughout much of the state.

BTF King CPUE As Of June 24

The sockeye or reds CPUE is on the low end too!  Note that we are below 2002 when escapement wasn’t met.

BTF Red CPUE As Of June 24

Here is the chum CPUE – as you can see it’s kind of middle of the road compared to other years and equivalent to years that overall escapement was met:

BTF Chum CPUE As Of June 24

 

Anchorage Daily News Article On Poor Chinook Returns State-wide

Here’s an excerpt of an article in the Anchorage Daily News discussing the variability in ocean conditions, and how they have contributed to the low returns we are seeing here in the Kuskokwim.

Decline in king salmon is rooted in the sea, state biologists say

Whatever’s plaguing state’s salmon isn’t in the rivers, experts say.

By RICHARD MAUER
Anchorage Daily News

Published: June 23rd, 2012 08:52 PM
Last Modified: June 23rd, 2012 10:49 PM

Something in the ocean has been death to Alaska’s king salmon.

The state’s iconic fish, treasured for food, sport and cash, should now be swimming in droves up rivers from the Southeast rain forests to the populated Railbelt and the Western Alaska tundra.

But they’re not.

To preserve future runs, state officials are clamping down throughout Alaska, banning even catch-and-release fishing of returning kings in Southcentral and halting subsistence king fishing on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers. They’re still reviewing whether to restrict the commercial setnetters in Cook Inlet who target sockeyes but can’t help taking kings as well.

“We’re in a period of low abundance and low returns, statewide, and whether it’s from Southeast, Copper River, Cook Inlet, Kodiak, Nushagak, Yukon, we’re just in this period of low productivity in the ocean,” said Ricky Gease, a biologist and director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

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You can read the entire article at http://www.adn.com/2012/06/23/2517571/decline-in-king-salmon-is-rooted.html

 

The Latest Bethel Test Fish Numbers

Here are the latest Bethel Test Fish cumulative numbers as of 6/22.  Note how the chum numbers are really climbing compared to the Chinook and sockeye.

People have been drifting with 4″ mesh and nets 60 feet or shorter near Aniak and have been catching chums and sockeye with an occasional Chinook showing up.

Bethel Test Fish Chinook CPUE (Catch-Per-Unit-Effort)

Bethel Test Fish Sockeye CPUE

Bethel Test Fish Chum Cumulative CPUE

Ray Turner Jr. Drifting With Friend Near Aniak

 

Talking Points Of KYUK’s Call-In Show On June 21

There were several questions brought up during the two-hour KYUK Call-In show the day after the Kuskokwim Salmon Management Working Group meeting where the Alaska Department of Fish & Game and Fish & Wildlife Service continued the closure periods against the wishes of the Working Group.

Over the past few weeks, and actually almost every year, people have questioned how good the Bethel Test Fishery reflects the actual abundance of salmon that’s in the river.  Well, it’s only natural to question such a tool when major management decisions – decisions that affect everyone on the river – are based off the results.

Some have said that this time of year the white-nosed kings are traveling too deep for the test fishery to catch…and that may be true.  Others say that the high water affects the results – and that is true.  And there are other variables that come into play depending on the circumstances.

But earlier this year the Department showed how well over time that tool compared to the eventual real escapement numbers observed at the weirs – particularly the Kogrukluk weir 100 miles up the Holitna River.

Unfortunately, the Kuskokwim managers have very few real-time tools, and this for now is the best one; the ONC In-Season Harvest Surveys are conducted to help validate the Bethel Test Fishery.  But keep in mind that the BTF is only an index; in other words if there are few fish in the river the catch per unit effort, or CPUE, should be low and when the numbers are high the results should reflect that too.  Hopefully it does a reasonable  job for everything in between.

Very few, if any, management tools are perfect, and a test fishery does have it’s limitations.  One limitation, however, is not that it doesn’t catch as many fish as possible.  Because many people think it should, they often ask why fish where it does and why the same time of day – in regards to the tide.  The reason being that any defensible tool must be repeatable so that it can be compared to previous days, weeks and years.

One caller had concerns for the soon-to-be implemented 6″ mesh restriction, stating that too many fish would fall out of the nets and die, being no good to anyone.  Travis Elison, the ADF&G Acting Area Manager, noted that fall-out occurs no matter what size net is used – even the larger nets.  Travis said that many fish make it to the weirs with net marks, which shows that many fall-outs continue on and are able to spawn; that’s why the Department believes that restricting mesh size is a viable conservation measure.

Below are several pictures taken from various weirs showing salmon with net marks that have made it back to spawn.

Chum salmon exhibiting fungused head resulting from net marks.

Chinook salmon showing the results of earlier entanglement in a net

A sockeye salmon in the background that had once been entangled in a net on it's way up the Kuskokwim

Lastly was the topic of bycatch and the implications with the Chinook returns to the Kuskokwim.  Many people are under the belief that over 100,000 Chinook salmon are killed and wasted each year from the Bering Sea pollock fishery.  Since May 15 of this year, 7,772 Chinook salmon have been caught (all of which are not heading to the Kuskokwim or Yukon rivers).  Here’s information provided by the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association:

I think the main point to make is that of that 7,772, not all are Kuskokwim fish.  Unfortunately we still don’t have good estimates of just how many of those fish are Kuskokwim-bound.  Historical sampling for genetics has been inadequate.  In 2010, after improvements in genetics sampling, approximately 40% of the bycatch is estimated to be from coastal Western Alaska.  2011 estimates are not yet available, and we will need several years of estimates to fully understand how much the portion of the bycatch from coastal Western Alaska will vary year to year.  We also don’t know what proportion of coastal Western Alaskan stocks are Kuskokwim stocks, but this group includes all Chinook salmon stocks from Bristol Bay, Kuskokwim, the Yukon below the Tanana River, and Norton Sound.   At this point, all we can really say is that the bycatch number is made up of many different stocks, and only some of those fish would have gone to the Kuskokwim.

So keep in mind that there has been only one year when the bycatch has exceeded 100,000 Chinook salmon; other years, however, have been as high as 80,000 with most being under 60,000.  It is a shame to waste any fish, and in years with low returns like this that waste is extremely heinous.  But in the big scheme of things the bycatch is a relatively small player in the amount of fish we see  – or don’t see – returning to our rivers to catch for subsistence or to spawn.

We’ll discuss the ocean conditions that are a major player in regards to what we see coming back to the Kuskokwim in a later post.