Salmon fishing is underway on the Yukon River, but runs are expected to be below average this summer season.
Sean Larson is a research biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“Based on above average temperatures and early ice-out, we are predicting a drainage-wide return of 130,000 to 175,000 Chinook salmon this year,” Larson said.
On a teleconference, Larson and other Fish and Game biologists heard from locals all along the Yukon River, from Emmonak at the mouth to small Canadian towns across the border. Lisa Bifelt called in from Huslia, a village of just under 300 along the Koyukuk River.
“I finally put out a net yesterday, but didn’t catch anything,” Bifelt said. “Several other people are fishing, and I’m pretty sure they’re not catching any salmon, but some people are catching pike, sheefish and whitefish,” she explained.
Many were sympathetic to Bifelt’s experience, saying they too had put their nets in the water with little or no luck. Holly Carroll said that’s not surprising.
“I don’t expect dip-net fisherman to have really great luck yet,” Carroll said. “It is early.”
Carroll is a Fish and Game biologist and the Yukon’s summer season manager. She said Fish and Game is taking a conservative approach for Chinooks, with the hope that an average chum run will help fill people’s freezers.
“I would caution fisherman to bear with us and hold tight,” Carroll urged. “Hopefully as these chum build, you might be more successful for your subsistence harvest for chum with your dipnet.”
Fish and Game does expect the chum runs to pick up later in the season, potentially with enough surplus for a commercial harvest in the fall.