Salmon Management in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Region of Alaska: Past, Present, and Future
John R. Hilsinger, Eric Volk, Gene Sandone, and Richard Cannon
Abstract.—Development and evolution of salmon fisheries management in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (AYK) region from the early 1900s to the present is described. Before statehood in 1959, commercial fisheries in the region were managed using a combination of quotas and closures with the aim of protecting the large subsistence fisheries in the region. After statehood, the newly formed Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Board of Fish and Game developed a more flexible approach to commercial fisheries management, based more on fishing time than quotas, to allow harvest to vary with run strength. Collection of detailed catch and escapement data as well as biological information such as age, sex, and length laid the foundation for better understanding salmon runs and setting escapement goals. These goals were first established from 1979 to 1984, and were based on average escapements under the principle that maintaining average, or better, escapements should maintain harvests at historical levels. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, management evolved toward more closely regulated fisheries to ensure escapement goals were met. During this time, the department began working cooperatively with resource users in the region through groups such as the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group and the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association. These relationships helped improve public input and use of local knowledge in fishery management as well as developed support for increased research funding. In the late 1990s, run failures throughout the region led to disaster declarations and the designation of many AYK salmon stocks as stocks of concern under the state’s Policy for the Management of Sustainable Salmon Fisheries. These run failures contributed to finalization of salmon sharing agreements between the United States and Canada, and signing of the Yukon River Salmon Agreement after 16 years of negotiation. Management of salmon during recent years has focused on refining escapement goals through spawner-recruit analyses, better assessing run strength to help ensure meeting escapement goals, and collecting additional information on population sizes, spawner distribution, and stock identification. The goal of management for the future is to set scientifically defensible escapement goals that provide the greatest likelihood of sustaining salmon runs and to improve run assessment techniques that will ultimately aid in maintaining viable subsistence and commercial fisheries throughout the region.