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New Regulations, Net Exchange Program for Yukon River Fisheries

Returns for the 2011 king salmon fishery on the Yukon River are projected
to again be poor. As the subsistence fishing season nears, federal and
state fisheries managers, working in consultation with subsistence and
commercial users, will continue to evaluate data and assess the potential
need for restrictions of king salmon subsistence fishing on the Yukon
River.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners, including the Alaska
Department of Fish and Game, Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association
(YRDFA) and subsistence fishermen, are actively planning conservation
measures that will help to address the poor run, and will try to provide
salmon for subsistence harvests by users all along the river.

This will be the first season for implementation of the new 7.5-inch
maximum gillnet mesh size regulation for Yukon River Chinook salmon. The
regulation was adopted by both the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the
Federal Subsistence Board prior to the fishing season in 2010. In doing so,
the Boards set an effective date of 2011 to allow more than a year for
fishers to convert their gear.

The 7.5 inch maximum gillnet mesh size restriction originated out of
concern for the number of large Chinook salmon being taken by the large
mesh gear (8” and greater), which tends to disproportionately harvest
larger salmon. Fishermen have been saying for years that the fish being
harvested in the Yukon River are getting smaller. These concerns led some
subsistence users to submit regulatory proposals requesting reductions in
mesh size to both the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the Federal Subsistence
Board.

During an April 13, 2011 YRDFA facilitated stakeholder planning meeting,
held to improve communications and to continue to develop shared management
objectives, no opposition was voiced concerning implementation and
enforcement of the mesh size restriction regulations. Those attending the
meeting included representatives of state and federal agencies, YRDFA,
tribal representatives, Alaska Native organizations, and Yukon River
subsistence users.

The Department of Commerce has established a net replacement/exchange
program using money appropriated by Congress to compensate fishermen for
the commercial Chinook salmon disaster of 2009 and extended to include
subsistence fishing households. The plan is to have fishermen exchange
their larger mesh nets for 7.5 or 6 inch mesh nets. The program will
provide webbing and twine for stringing, along with a voucher to assist
with the restringing of the nets. The goal is to replace existing nets,
not to increase the number of nets being used along the river. Fishermen
are reminded that they can use nets that are less than or equal to 7.5 inch
mesh to fish for subsistence all along the river: with this new regulation
they are only prohibited from using nets larger than 7.5 inches.

Fishermen in lower river districts (Y1, Y2) and the Coastal District
needing information on the gillnet webbing exchange program may contact
Jack Schultheis (schultheis@kwikpakfisheries.com) or Judi Murdock (
judi@kwikpakfisheries.com ) at Kwik’Pak Fisheries thru May 15 at
907-644-0326 and from May 15 thru October 15 at 907-949-1120.

Fishermen in the upper river districts (Y3 – Y6) needing information on the
gillnet webbing exchange program may contact Lisa Kangas (
lisa.kangas@tananachiefs.org) at Tanana Chiefs Conference at 1-800-478-6822
ext 3451. Additional points of contact are Paige Drobny (
paige.drobny@tananachiefs.org) and Aaron Dupuis (
aaron.dupuis@tananachiefs.org).

We all continue to hope for stronger than projected runs. However, in light
of current Chinook salmon return forecasts, the Division of Refuge Law
Enforcement for the Alaska Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
plans to have representatives working along the Yukon River during the 2011
run, to provide outreach to the subsistence community and enforcement of
any necessary harvest restrictions in order to ensure the long-term
sustainability of this important fishery.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to
conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for
the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and
trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific
excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated
professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our
work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

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