Fishers on the Kuskokwim River are expecting unprecedented restrictions to bring more king salmon to spawning grounds. On the Yukon River, fisherman can expect a similar set of restrictions.
Twenty years ago, king salmon runs on the Yukon averaged 300,000 fish. In 2013, biologists counted just 76,000 fish.
Stephanie Schmidt is the Yukon River Research Biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“I think with this run size, we’re going to have trouble reaching our escapement goals even if there is no harvest on the Yukon river,” Schmidt said.
The forecast this year is for between 64,000-121,000 kings. Managers don’t expect to have any directed king openings. Still, some kings could be accidentally caught in gillnets intended for other salmon species or whitefish.
Schmidt says fishers will likely not be able to use gillnets unless many more kings than expected come into the river. Using non-traditional gear is the subject of current discussions between managers and fishermen.
“The the idea is can we provide opportunity to fisherman for subsistence fishing in a way that would allow them to catch those other species, especially the abundant summer chum salmon or the fall chum salmon that come in and are supposed to have a good run this year. Are there way* that they can target those species and not harm king salmon?” Schmidt said.
One gear type is dipnets, which allow for the live release of kings. Fisherman may also be using beach seines, and fish wheels with a live chute. There’s no firm fishing schedule set, but subsistence fishing will close according to law when the first pulse of king salmon enter the river. As breakup approaches, Schmidt says conversations with Yukon residents have been positive.
“Fisherman on the Yukon recognize the issue, they recognize that we’re in a situation where we need to conserve, and we need to get more king salmon on the spawning grounds if we’re going to give this run any chance of recovering,” Schmidt said.
On the commercial side, The Board of Fish tweaked the rules for commercial summer chum fisherman. Non-circular dipnets can be as large as 6 feet by 3 feet. The board did not pass a proposal from the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development association to allow for purse seines during times of king salmon conservation.