Yukon River chinook, chums, on track for dismal season

There wasn’t much positive news during this week’s teleconference hosted by the Yukon River Fisheries Drainage Association.

Bright-red, thin strips of salmon hang like streamers.
Yukon River salmon strips. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Chair Brook Woods shared a dismal chinook salmon count from the Pilot Station sonar near the river’s mouth.

“As of Monday, June 28, just over 60,000 King have been counted at the Pilot sonar station, and that is only half the average count for this date,” she said.

Wood said the run is estimated to be about midway through and, if things don’t change, a border passage agreement with Canada and drainage-wide escapement goals won’t be met.

“If we’re not able to meet escaping goals, this will be the third year in a row,” she said.

The situation is even worse for summer chum salmon. State research biologist Fred West said just 31,000 are estimated to have passed the Pilot Station sonar station as of Monday, well below the historic median of 500,000.

“That’s the lowest on record for this day,” he said. “So this is lower than the runs we saw in 2000 and 2001.”

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Deena Jallen, the state summer season management biologist, said managers had no choice but to close the fishery.

“I really feel that everyone is really struggling this year,” she said. “We know it’s really hard. If there were a fish to be harvested, I would be wanting to let people harvest, but there’s just no fish to be harvested so it has to be closed.”

The Chinook and summer chum salmon fishing closure extends from the Yukon River’s headwaters to its mouth as well as area coastal communities.

Hooper Bay resident John Rivers lamented the situation.

“I’ve never seen Hooper Bay closed ever since I was a little boy to this day. It’s so sad to see it’s closed,” he said.

Martin Kelly of Pilot Station said communities need help filling the food void.

“Fish and Game and everybody else better be prepared to go out and get some crab or pollock or halibut and bring it to each household on the Yukon River,” he said.

Application for a federal disaster declaration is already in the works, according to Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Director for the Tanana Chiefs Conference.

“Just so folks know, that disaster declaration process takes a long time,” she said. “We don’t anticipate that funding would be available to fishermen for at least a year, maybe possibly two years.”

Quinn-Davidson said that a request submitted for a disaster declaration for last summer’s poor Yukon River salmon runs was just recently forwarded by the state to the federal government.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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