There have been tumultuous times around the state of Kuskokwim River salmon, including a federal lawsuit over perceived mismanagement of the fishery and a closure of chum salmon fishing. The latest analysis of salmon runs on the river are improving, but not enough to make a massive difference.
For chum salmon, long a mainstay in local people’s diets, returns were better this year than last year and better than the record-low conditions of 2021, preliminary numbers show. But the struggles continue, said Kevin Whitworth, executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
“I wouldn’t say they’re improving because we’re coming off some of the worst chum salmon runs the Kuskokwim ever had,” said Whitworth, whose organization works with the federal government to manage the river’s fisheries. “We’re basically coming off of the bottom of the barrel.”
According to sonar counts at Bethel, near the Bering Sea mouth of the 700-mile river, almost 240,000 chum salmon swam into the Kuskokwim River this year, about twice the number counted by sonar last year but still well below long-term averages, the commission summary said.
For coho salmon, also known as silver salmon, there were notable improvements over the extremely low numbers of the past two years. According to the intertribal fish commission’s summary, 372,000 coho salmon were counted by sonar swimming into the Kuskokwim River, the largest total in the past four years. But as with chum, it is far too early to declare a recovery might be underway, Whitworth said.