Yukon King Run Stronger Than Expected

“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Via Flickr Creative Commons.
“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Via Flickr Creative Commons.

A stronger than expected run of Yukon River Chinook salmon is allowing fishery managers to loosen subsistence harvest restrictions on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the river. The better-than-anticipated run is still small by historical standards, but may signal that Yukon King stocks are beginning to rebuild.

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Nearly 65,000 kings had passed the state’s sonar counter near the U.S. Canada border at Eagle as of Wednesday, enough to exceed key milestones, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Stephanie Schmidt.

The harvest sharing agreement divides the number of kings in excess of the escapement goal between Alaska and Canadian fishermen.

Schmidt says there has already been some king harvest by Alaska subsistence fishermen, including a reported 3,000 incidentally caught in the commercial summer chum fishery. She expects a similar conservative catch in Canada.

This year’s return is the second in a row that appears to show some movement toward rebuilding a run that once totaled 3 hundred thousand but has struggled for the past two decades due to over harvest and suspected environmental factors. Beyond the raw return number, Schmidt says this summer’s Yukon King run also showed another positive sign.

Schmidt says this summer’s kings are also bigger, cautioning that’s in line with a substantial contingent of larger age 6 fish returning.  She says a salmon research project near the river mouth is seeing more young Chinook than in past years, a potential sign more could come back in future years, depending on environmental conditions.