Jackson also talked about the impact of high fuel costs on survival. Gasoline in Bethel recently went up to $6.70 a gallon.
Bev Hoffman, who is co-chair of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working group, was a guest on the program.
Hoffman tried to convince two other guests on the program, a state and a federal wildlife manager, to consider a brief opening.
“I want to be a good steward of the river. I want to ensure that future generations get fish,” said Hoffman. “Just a small window of opportunity, I think we can still save the kings.”
But Bethel test fishery numbers this season have been among the lowest on record.
Travis Elison, the acting area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, says the subsistence harvest on the Kuskokwim River averages about 75,000 kings a year, but in the last five years, escapement goals for the Kuskokwim River drainage have not been met.
“Escapement is important,” said Elison. “We need to make these escapement goals high. We need to make sure we achieve them.”
“It’s a very tough year for everybody, especially myself as a manager. The hardest part of any manager’s job is to restrict fishing,” said Elison.
Biologists are hoping that the king salmon run is late -- and when fish move into the river, subsistence harvests can resume. But as June slips away, so does the warm and sunny weather. July is typically a rainy month, that brings mold, flies and challenging conditions for drying fish.
Not all subsistence fishing is on hold. Fishers are allowed to catch other species, if they use gill nets with a mesh size of four inches or less -- and not longer than 60 feet.
The department hopes to loosen restrictions on kings once test fisheries demonstrate there are sufficient numbers to allow subsistence fishing to resume. Managers also hope to provide more opportunity for other species of salmon such as sockeyes, chums and cohos.
On Sunday, Myron Naneng, the head of the Association of Village Council Presidents, one of the largest tribal organizations in the state, requested a meeting with Governor Sean Parnell.
The governor’s office says it’s working to set a date.
Senate staffers for Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich say the two senators are watching the situation closely. Begich is scheduled to meet with Naneng later in the month.
State Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell says more time is needed to see how the run progresses -- and then decide how much assistance is needed.
“This is such a large subsistence fishery, and there are so many people depending on it," said Campbell. “It’s a huge priority for us this time of the year to track what’s happening out there.”
And what’s happening out in the ocean is part of the debate. Many western Alaska fishermen blame the pollock trawler fleet for back-to-back years of poor returns. They claim too many king salmon, or chinooks,are caught while trawlers are fishing for pollock in the Bering Sea.
While Campbell says the trawlers may be contributing factor in the poor runs, the problem is much bigger.
“There are conditions in the ocean that are poor, leading to poor survival of chinook salmon. That’s why you’re seeing reduced returns in many of Alaska’s streams,” said Campbell.
The department, says Campbell, is investing heavily in more research to better understand why king salmon runs on the Yukon and Kuskokwim have been in such big trouble. And while that may not bring relief this season, Campbell says it might help protect future runs.
On the radio call-in show, there was a lot of grumbling about why sacrifices can’t be made throughout the life cycle of the salmon rather than when they return to their natal streams.
“The Kuskokwim and Yukon subsistence fishers have carried the burden of conservation on their backs,” said Hoffman. "That’s what bothers me.”
Hoffman says the salmon working group plans to meet on Wednesday in hopes of convincing managers to reopen subsistence fishing.
The closures are staggered across different parts of the river, with subsistence fishing set to open in the lower river on Friday and then in Bethel on Monday.
“Give the people who need the fish the opportunity,” said Hoffman.