Summer Yukon salmon runs predicted to be below average

Salmon fishing is underway on the Yukon River, but runs are expected to be below average this summer season.

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Chum salmon migration. (Photo courtesy of USFWS/Togiak National Wildlife Refuge)
Chum salmon migration. (Photo courtesy of USFWS/Togiak National Wildlife Refuge)

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.

Map showing locations of the 31 Chinook populations in the baseline (dots) and 9 fine scale reporting regions (shaded areas). (Image courtesy of ADFG)
Map showing locations of the 31 Chinook populations in the baseline (dots) and 9 fine scale reporting regions (shaded areas). (Image courtesy of ADFG)

“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.

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Emily Russell is the voice of Alaska morning news as Alaska Public Media’s Morning News Host and Producer. Originally from the Adirondacks in upstate New York, Emily moved to Alaska in 2012. She skied her way through three winters in Fairbanks, earning her Master’s degree in Northern Studies from UAF. Emily’s career in radio started in Nome in 2015, reporting for KNOM on everything from subsistence whale harvests to housing shortages in Native villages. She then worked for KCAW in Sitka, finally seeing what all the fuss with Southeast, Alaska was all about. Back on the road system, Emily is looking forward to driving her Subaru around the region to hike, hunt, fish and pick as many berries as possible. When she’s not talking into the mic in the morning, Emily can be found reporting from the peaks above Anchorage to the rivers around Southcentral.