Pacific Salmon: Ecology and Management of Western Alaska’s Populations

Management of Recreational Salmon Fisheries in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Region of Alaska

John M. Burr


Abstract.—The sport fisheries for Chinook Oncorhynchus tshawytscha and coho salmon O. kisutch are a small but important component of fisheries in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region (AYK). In the United States’ portion of the Yukon River drainage and in the Kuskokwim River drainage, only 5% of the total harvest (sport, commercial, subsistence) of these species are taken by the sport fisheries. In Norton Sound, sport fisheries harvest is somewhat more important and approximates 10% of the total Chinook and coho salmon harvest. The goal of sport fishery management is to maintain reliable fishing opportunities. In contrast, commercial and subsistence fishery management seeks a maximum sustainable harvest via efficient capture methods to provide for subsistence needs and viable commercial markets. The Alaska Board of Fisheries and Alaska Department of Fish and Game have primary responsibility for managing fisheries. Sport fishery management for salmon in the AYK region has little effect on annual spawning escapements of salmon due to low levels of harvest. Sport fishing gear is inherently inefficient and catch rates are variable. Bag limits are low in number and the focus of many anglers is on catching and releasing salmon, not on harvest. In recent years, catch-and-release fishing has increased and the proportion of salmon harvested from the total sport catch has declined. Catch-and-release fishing has been controversial with some local residents. Sport fisheries often occur upstream of, and after, the subsistence and commercial fisheries have completed their harvests. Maintaining reliable fishing opportunities are particularly critical to the few, small volume, AYK sport fish guide businesses. Clients generally arrange to fish several months before the start of the season. This small industry adds diversity in economic opportunities in rural Alaska. An inseason closure of the sport fishery for salmon can have a devastating economic impact on these small businesses.