The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is closing sport and subsistence fishing on Kodiak’s Litnik or Afognak Lake and Buskin River drainages due to low escapement. The closure begins Saturday.
ADF&G closed sport and subsistence sockeye salmon fishing in the Afognak River and the Buskin River systems.
“Right now past Litnik or Afognak Lake we’ve got about 4,300 fish past the weir,” said James Jackson, the Kodiak Commercial Salmon and Herring Area Management Biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
He says there are just not enough fish getting past the weirs.
“We’d like to be somewhere between like 10,000 and 25,000 fish right now. So, it looks like at that current rate without some kind of restrictions we’re not going to achieve the minimum escapement of 20,000 fish there,” said Jackson.
Escapement is even lower on the Buskin, says Jackson.
“We’ve only got about 54 fish past the weir. Typically, we’d like to be somewhere between 1,700 and 2,700 fish past the weir. So, again, without some kind of sport and subsistence restrictions, it doesn’t look like that we’re going to achieve our escapement goal of 5,000 fish,” said Jackson.
Commercial fishing has not yet opened on the Litnik or the Buskin due to the low escapement, and fisheries managers say it doesn’t look likely that it will happen anytime soon.
“Our families depend on the fish to get us through the winter,” said Sharon Wolkoff, a member of the Sun’aq Tribal Council, whose members have been preparing to harvest their traditional food, sockeye salmon, through subsistence fishing.
“If it is not there, we don’t have food in our freezer. Some of us do arts and crafts with the skin. So, that brings in financial funds.”
Wolkoff says not being able to fish for one of their traditional food staples would be a hardship.
“You know, we prepare for the season, getting the skiff ready, getting the motor ready,” said Wolkoff. “But usually, you know, I like to get at least 60 in the freezer, or for canning, jarring. My nephew in Ouzinkie just built a smokehouse not too long ago, so everybody is preparing to get their catch.”
Wolkoff says, if subsistence fishing for sockeye remains closed, her family will likely concentrate on fishing for halibut instead
But she added that she’s hopeful because rain is in the forecast, and she believes the rain brings the fish.
Jackson with ADF&G says he should know a lot more in the coming week.
“There’s definitely some strange things going on this summer, but every summer is different,” said Jackson.
He says, if escapement improves and it looks like minimum escapement goals will be met, ADF&G could reopen subsistence fishing for sockeye salmon.
He adds that there is one bright spot for subsistence sockeye fishing on Kodiak Island. The south end of the island seems to be doing better with either average or above average escapement.