ANCHORAGE (AP) -- This year's return of king salmon on the Kuskokwim River appears strong enough to meet subsistence needs and spawning goals, according to biologists.
If runs continue to build, restrictions imposed this spring will be lifted. This spring, state and federal managers reduced subsistence fishing on the river to four days a week, saying the king run needed the additional protection.
And though fishermen on the Kuskokwim are catching more kings than they have in years, there still aren't enough of the big chinooks to satisfy demand.
Some Kuskokwim-area subsistence fishermen asked the Federal Subsistence Board to shut down the area's sportfishery, saying the anglers shouldn't be allowed to fish unimpeded while subsistence is closed.
The board, meeting in Anchorage Tuesday, narrowly rejected the proposal. But it agreed to rein in anglers when subsistence users are sitting on the beach.
Board member Judy Gottlieb said the vote is important even though it likely won't change the number of kings that reach the spawning grounds or end up in subsistence nets.
''The board's main focus is subsistence management and I think the board needs to support the continuation of the subsistence way of life,'' she said.
The Kuskokwim River has suffered a string of poor salmon returns in recent years. Commercial fisheries were the first to be shut down. As runs dwindled, sportfisheries were cut back, too. Last to lose fishing privileges were subsistence fishermen.
Last year, state and federal managers unveiled a new plan to rebuild king and chum runs throughout the Kuskokwim drainage. In better times, subsistence fishermen could fish until their winter needs were filled.
Surveys by several agencies have found general acceptance of the new limits, although complaints have arisen. Wayne Morgan of Aniak told the subsistence board Tuesday that it's hard for elders to pull their nets in and out of the river every week. John Owens of Kwethluk said it takes longer for a family to catch its fish, pushing into the time of year when damp weather makes it almost impossible to dry the salmon properly.
What most galled subsistence fishermen, however, was the ongoing sportfishery.
''During our fishing closures I see a number of boats going up with rod and reels dangling on the side, and that's frustrating to us when we have to sit and wait for the opening of our subsistence fishery,'' said James Nicori of Kwethluk.
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