King opener slow but not hopeless

Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2002

QUINHAGAK (AP) -- The night before the first commercial king salmon opening of the season, Warren Jones looked across Kuskokwim Bay and worried about the lack of small skiffs.

''The guys from the Kuskokwim use smaller boats. We can tell which their boats are,'' said Jones, plant manager of Coastal Villages Seafood. ''They come in before and camp. When we see a lot of boats from the Kuskokwim area, we know it's going to be good.''

Only 58 of some 200 permit-holders who fish for commercial salmon annually in Quinhagak showed up for the first opening June 14. But the line of aluminum boats waiting to deliver fish to the tender on the docks was long throughout most of the 12-hour opening.

The waiting fishermen were not expecting to get rich as they had in the late 1980s, when an opening could bring them as much as $1,000, said Thomas Beebe, a commercial fisherman from Quinhagak. The fishermen were mostly locals from Quinhagak, Eek and Goodnews Bay who had fished the areas for years.

''I like going out fishing,'' said Florence Mark, 17, who got her first permit when she was 15. ''I always have a good feeling when I'm out on the ocean. I have nothing to worry about. There is just me and my fishing partner out there.''

For those without jobs every bit of money helps, said Adolph Hunter, a commercial fishermen from Eek. The 75 kings and 20 chums he caught at 35 cents per pound yielded him just over $374. After paying for his gas, he still had enough left over to pay some bills.

Hunter was one of the luckier fishermen on the Kuksokwim Bay. He had marked the hot spots on his global positioning system last year and seemed to know exactly where to find fish.

''Some of them didn't do as good. They didn't know where the fish were at,'' Hunter said. ''It was up by the channel. I kept calling them to come, but I guess they didn't believe me.''

Many who fished the entire period returned to the tender with only a few dozen fish. The 34,000 pounds caught were much less than anticipated.

''We were hoping for at least 80,000 (pounds) but that was a dream,'' Jones said. ''We're well below average this year.''

Low returns were reportedly caused by calm morning currents that prevented fish from being swept into nets.

''A lot of guys said they could see the kings passing right in front of them, but they wouldn't move into the net,'' Jones said.

Beebe is looking forward to fishing for chums and reds, which are easier on nets, the rest of the fishing season. He is not alone. Jones expects many commercial fishermen from the Kuskokwim River will come out after they have filled their fish racks for subsistence and more people have received their permits.

''We're hoping it will be better later on,'' Jones said. ''We're getting ready for it.''

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