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BETHEL (AP) — The number of king salmon returning to an Alaska river has been inflated for decades, according to recent state data.
The state now is recommending that the body governing the Bering Sea pollock fishery adopt this new information about the Kuskokwim River, KYUK-AM reported .
If it does, restrictions on the fleet's bycatch of king salmon could tighten.
Returns have been below this threshold since at least 2010, according to new data from the Alaska Fish and Game Department. Meanwhile, the Bering Sea pollock fleet has hauled in tens of thousands of king salmon each year, caught incidentally. Less than 3 percent of those kings are estimated to have been bound for western Alaska rivers.
With fewer kings swimming up the Kuskokwim River, fishermen have been told by state, federal, and tribal managers to fish less along the river. But fishermen have pointed downstream and said the problem is further away — in the Bering Sea.
"To me, I think more should be done out in the ocean," said Darren Deacon, Tribal Chief of the Native Village of Kalskag, during a recent teleconference hosted by the Kuskokwim River Intertribal Fish Commission. "If we're going to suffer in these rivers — every person, every village, every tribe is suffering — the trawling fleets should feel the same pain."
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is scheduled to make a decision by Monday on how many king salmon can be caught incidentally by commercial fishing boats targeting pollock in the Bering Sea.
The council oversees those bycatch regulations and can tighten them when king salmon returns to Western Alaska rivers fall below a certain threshold — less than 250,000 king salmon returning to the Kuskokwim River, Upper Yukon River and Unalakleet River combined.