Low salmon numbers close subsistence fishing on the Yukon

A man holding a net is silhouetted from behind as he looks over the susnny water.
A fisherman pulls a chum out of the Yukon with a Kenai style dip net. (Kyle Clayton/KYUK)

The fishing has gone from bad to worse on the Yukon River. Fall chum numbers are so low that managers have closed subsistence fishing on the lower Yukon. 

Managers say that there are simply not enough chum salmon to meet the escapement goals for the river, or for the terms of the Yukon River Salmon Agreement with Canada. 

Jack Schultheis, the manager of KwikPak Fisheries, LLC, the Emmonak processor that usually sells Yukon chums commercially, has been coming to the community since the 1970s. He closed down operations earlier this summer when chums failed to arrive in adequate numbers, but Schultheis remained in Emmonak. He said that he knew this summer would be tough. Now that the state has closed subsistence fishing on the fall run, he worries that “folks here are not able to get all the fish they need to get through the winter.”

The low number of chums on the Yukon is not unique; it’s happening throughout the state. Biologists link it to the failure of age-4 fish. Fall chum salmon are typically dominated by that age group, but not this year. The 2016 fish, the parent year that would have produced this summer’s age-4 chums, have not survived well.