No Kuskoquim Salmon Fishery in 2016

From Alaska Dispatch News:

No buyer for Kuskokwim salmon, so no commercial salmon fishing
[li] Author: Lisa Demer [/li]> [li] Updated: 1 day ago[/li]> [li] Published 1 day ago[/li]> [/ul]

       BETHEL – For the first time since 1960, for as long as the state has  managed fisheries, a season's worth of salmon will travel up rivers in  the Kuskokwim Delta this year with no opportunity for local residents to  catch them commercially.

 With no fish buyer signed up for the Kuskokwim region, the usual  infusion of millions of dollars into this part of job-poor Southwestern  Alaska isn't happening.

Nearly 450,000 salmon of various types have been caught on average commercially in recent years.

Not this year. The state says those unharvested fish could overload spawning grounds and hurt future runs.

"We need to fish," says Timothy "Johnny-boy" Matthew, a Quinhagak fisherman who goes by his childhood nickname.

The sole local buyer in recent years, a branch of [Coastal Villages Region Fund](, isn't operating its $40 million fish processing plant in Platinum, on the Bering Sea coast in Southwest Alaska.

Coastal Villages Seafoods isn't buying any salmon from village residents at all.

 The local fishing operation was heavily subsidized by Coastal Villages,  costing it $66 million in the last seven years alone, according to the  organization.

 Some fishermen and village leaders say Coastal Villages Region Fund, or  CVRF, is failing to live up to its promise. It is one of six Alaska  non-profit organizations created under federal law to boost the Western  Alaska economy by investing profits from quotas of high-seas fisheries  of crab, pollock and other species into their regions.

"The Kuskokwim is not a tenable commercial fishery at this time," CVRF says in written materials explaining the situation.

 Uncertainty over commercial fish openings, weak global salmon prices,  tensions between commercial and subsistence fishermen, and years of  losses led to the decision to put the Kuskokwim fisheries on hold this  summer, CVRF said.

[B]Slug of kings[/B]

 Without an identified market, the state Department of Fish and Game  won't call any commercial openings in fishing districts in Kuskokwim Bay  and the Bering Sea near Quinhagak, Goodnews Bay or up the Kuskokwim  River main stem to around Tuluksak, said Aaron Poetter, the state  management biologist for commercial fisheries in the Kuskokwim area.

 Lacking buyers, "there's no place for those fish to go," said Poetter,  part of a state commercial fisheries team based in Bethel for the  summer.

If local fishermen can find a market, the state would consider a commercial opening, he said.

 In recent years, Fish and Game commercial salmon openings generally  occurred three days a week in Kuskokwim and Goodnews bays, though  openings always depend on the strength of the runs, Poetter said. On the  Kuskokwim River, with more conflict between subsistence and commercial  interests, there have been fewer openings, he said. Some fishermen who  live upriver boated hours each summer to camp and fish out of Quinhagak.

 In Kuskokwim Bay this year, king salmon are running thick and the reds  are starting to show up, locals who have been fishing for subsistence  say.

"Some people – I heard they set their nets out for one hour, getting close to 100 fish," Matthew said.

The state is hearing reports of big returns in the bay, too.

"That's lost commercial harvest opportunity," Poetter said.

Fish and Game has been asking CVRF to make a formal announcement on its decision.

"So they still haven't come out and made an announcement and the season is here," Poetter said.

Coastal Villages confirmed in emails that it won't be buying Kuskokwim fish or running its processing plant.

 Some 396 Kuskokwim-area fishermen participated last year in the salmon  fishery, according to state commercial permit records, below the recent  average of 473. Coastal Villages also employed 150 people as fish  processors in the region, according to written materials it provided.

 Last year, Kuskokwim fishermen were paid 50 cents a pound for salmon,  no matter if it was red, silver, chum or king. They later got bonus pay.

[B]'Doing nothing'[/B]

 Village residents and leaders say they were caught off-guard and want  answers. With more notice from Coastal Villages Region Fund, they might  have been able to find another buyer.

 "Our question is 'Why?' " said Warren Jones, president of the Quinhagak  village corporation, Qanirtuuq Inc. "Why didn't they let us know? Why  did they not open?"

Coastal Villages says its employees and board members in the affected villages have been providing information.

 The fishing closure affects entire communities, Jones said. Business is  down about 40 percent at the village corporation's store and fuel pump,  he said. Inventory of nets, raingear and other fishing supplies at the  corporation's hardware store aren't moving either, he said.

 Jones and others have contacted potential fish buyers but haven't been  able to arrange for quick sales of Kuskokwim salmon. He is thinking  about trying to transform a Quinhagak tribal building back into a salmon  fish plant. He ran the plant, where salmon were processed down to  restaurant-ready fillets, several years for Coastal Villages, which shut  it down when the bigger one opened in Platinum.

 Now the Quinhagak plant is being used for storage. Coastal Villages  sold two tenders used in the region. It's shuttered all of its Kuskokwim  seafood operations.

 "There are still some trucks and forklifts. Everybody thought they were  going to open so all the stuff they used last year is sitting at the  dock, doing nothing," Jones said.

 Matthew, one of the village fishermen, is working temporarily for the  village corporation. He said he usually relies on fishing to bring in  $10,000 a year and cover bills. After last season, he bought a new boat  motor with the help of CVRF, but hasn't even gotten to use it for  commercial fishing.

 Dozens of residents from the village and Eek have signed a petition  asking the CVRF board and executive director Morgen Crow to come to them  and explain the status of fishing.

"I'm getting calls from other villages too, on what our deal is," Matthew said.

 CVRF is the designated community development quota group for 20  Southwestern villages, including Quinhagak, Platinum and Goodnews Bay on  the coast, Toksook Bay and other Nelson Island villages, and Kuskokwim  River villages from Eek near the mouth on up to Napaskiak, Napakiak and  Oscarville, all near the hub of Bethel. Some 10,000 people live in the  CVRF villages.

[B]Spending in region[/B]

 None of CVRF's executives or top managers were available for an  interview this week, said Taylor Bickford of Strategies 360, a  communications firm working for the organization.

 While it lost $6 million to $7 million a year on local fishing  operations, Coastal Villages said it makes millions from Bering Sea  fisheries including pollock on its own factory trawler as well as crab  and cod caught on boats that it owns and manages. Locals can work on its  vessels and on others that it is invested in, CVRF said.

 To benefit its communities, Coastal Villages said it spends $25 million  to $30 million a year in the region and wants to ensure it can keep  doing that.

 It runs community service centers in every village that employ more  than 140 people, function as free internet cafes and in most villages  include a mechanic shop. It pays 40 percent of the cost of expensive  items such as boat motors, four-wheelers and Toyo stoves for residents  in its villages who qualify. It offers scholarships and pays for  residents to go through training programs. It expects to employ more  than 500 young people this summer in a youth job program.

 "To ensure our region can weather the difficult economic times ahead,  and to alleviate the pressure on the local resource, thus freeing it up  for subsistence use, Coastal has determined it must pursue only healthy  and vibrant programs that provide the greatest benefit to the largest  number of people," the organization said.

A CVRF online survey is underway to ask residents about greatest needs as well as preferences on community spending.

 Some Kuskokwim fishermen point to the bustling fish plant in the Yukon  River village of Emmonak, run and subsidized by the community  development quota group there, the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development  Association.

[I][[A western Alaska village comes to life with summer fish plant jobs and commercial dipnetting](][/I]

 If the Yukon can do it, why not the Kuskokwim? asked Charles Guest, a  third-generation fisherman from Bethel who now lives in his wife's home  village of Napaskiak.

"I think we are getting the short end of the stick," Guest said.

 The Platinum fish plant was an experiment that opened in 2009 and  committed to running at a loss for five years. It's just too expensive  to continue with it and the subsidies for fishermen, CVRF said. The  state budget crisis is a factor, too, the organization said.

 In 2015, the Kuskokwim fishing area harvested about 234,000 salmon,  most of them coho or silver, followed by red or sockeye salmon,  according to preliminary Fish and Game numbers. The value of the catch  was $869,112.

That's about half of the 10-year average.

 When there is commercial fishing in Quinhagak, "everybody is working  hard, happy. People are making money, families working together. They  are going to store a lot more," Jones said.

"Now it's kinda depressing."

I would not be the least bit surprised if the sport guides had some involvement in this event !!

all those kings,with no where to go