As Chinooks, Chums Enter the Yukon, Fishermen Chafe Under Tight Restrictions

Subsistence fishermen say they’re willing to back off the kings, but they want to be able to get their chums.

Both Chinook and chum salmon are starting to swim up the Yukon River, but with the worst king run on record expected this year, Fish and Game officials are implementing tight restrictions that subsistence users say are keeping them from getting chums.

“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” (Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” (Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

“We do not want to be handling Chinook salmon unnecessarily when we have such a low run, and we’re concerned for the Chinook run, and we have some pretty big closures on subsistence,”  Fish & Game biologist Eric Newland said during the first in-season management call Wednesday. “We don’t want to kill any more kings than we need to.”

As of Monday, the northern Costal district and districts one through three — from the mouth of the Yukon to just north of Holy Cross — are closed to gillnets with mesh sizes bigger than 4 inches. Dipnets are also prohibited — for now. Fish & Game biologists say it’s to avoid Chinook bycatch, but many fishermen say it’s keeping them from catching anything at all.

“We got restrictions so early this year,” Ryan, a caller from Russian Mission, said. “I had about a week to get some salmon and here at Russian Mission we haven’t got any salmon, maybe I heard one chum salmon. We didn’t get a chance to get our sheefish.”

Others along the Yukon echoed Kenai fisherman Robert Gibson, who disagrees with fishery managers as to how much of a threat dipnetting poses to Chinook.

“I personally dipnet in the Russian River here for years, and I hardly see any damage or mortality at all when doing so,” Gibson said. “So, I would like to know what your concerns are not allowing dipnetting for chums for subsistence during the uh, the closure?”

And another caller — Eric from St. Mary’s — says the new, tight restrictions mean many don’t have the right equipment.

“We’ve got probably 75 percent of these subsistence don’t have the gear to harvest right now, it’s only a handful of the people who tried it last year in the commercial,” Eric said. “So I don’t know how we’re going to deal with that, fishery last year.”

“So, I don’t know how we’re going to deal with that, getting their subsistence needs met.”

Despite complaints, the restrictions remain in effect for Districts 1 through 3, with similar restrictions coming to other districts as the first pulse of Chinook makes its way upriver.

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Matthew Smith is a reporter at KNOM in Nome.

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