Yukon salmon runs offering opportunities for harvest

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

Yukon River king and summer chum salmon runs are shaping up to be some of the strongest in years.

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Fish and Game’s sonar project on the lower Yukon at Pilot Station estimated about 25,000 kings and 280,000 summer chum on Wednesday alone – some of the highest daily passage numbers seen over the past ten years.

Fish and Game Yukon River Summer Season Manager Holly Carroll said that the Yukon king run is on track to come in at the upper end of the Department’s pre-season projection, but it will likely fall short of the huge king runs of the 1980s and early 1990s.

“Run sizes used to be around 300,000, so if we see a run size of around 190,000 this year we will definitely be happy, and that should be sufficient to meet escapement goals,” Carroll said. “But there have been restrictions on subsistence fishing – so we are not out of the woods yet. We are still in conservation mode, but we can certainly be hopefully right now.”

King salmon management on the Yukon over the past few years has focused on protecting the first pulse of fish, many of which are bound for Canada. Any subsistence fishing opportunities for kings have been provided near the end of the run. As Carroll explained, Fish and Game has a different approach for subsistence openings.

“While it is important to protect the first pulse of fish headed for Canada, we have a lot of other stocks, [such as] lower river, middle river, Koyukuk stocks,” Carroll said. “And you want to be careful that, when you are allowing harvest on a run, that you are spreading that harvest across all stocks and across all age classes. So it is really important that, in order to protect one stock we don’t over-harvest on another.”

Commercial fishing for Yukon king salmon has not occurred since 2007, and no commercial king openings are planned for this year. Commercial fishing for the Yukon’s abundant summer chum salmon is occurring with selective gear types only, such as dip nets, beach seines, and live release fish wheels. Just under 100,000 summer chum had been harvested commercial on the lower Yukon as of June 22.