The run size for Yukon River Chinook, or king salmon, is likely to be lower than last year’s. Fishermen saw the lowest run of kings on record in 2013. Sport fishing throughout the entire Yukon River drainage area, including the Tanana River is closed this summer. As KUAC’s Emily Schwing reports, biologists don’t expect enough fish for a subsistence or commercial harvest this year either.
Anywhere between 64,000 and 121,000 Chinook salmon could swim up the Yukon River this summer. Fish and Game’s Yukon River Research Biologist Stephanie Schmidt expects the run size to be close to the lower end of that range. “Because the last several years, we’ve seen run sizes that have come in lower or at that low end of our preseason projections," she said.
If she is right, this summer’s will be the lowest run on record for the Yukon River. Schmidt says there could be several reasons for the decline in king salmon. “I always like to use the analogy of a a rivet in an airplane. If you take one rivet out the airplane will still fly. If you take two out, it will still fly, but once you start taking three, four, five rivets out it’s going to crash. So it might not be one big thing that’s causing Chinook salmon to decline but several small factors," Schmidt said.
Fish and Game is trying to manage the king salmon population so that up to 55,000 fish make it to Canada. That’s close to 86 percent of the lower end of the projected total run size. Fish and Game’s Yukon Area Summer Season Manager Eric Newland says there hasn’t been a lot of argument against closing sport fishing, subsistence or commercial harvest this summer.
“I think most people on the river really understand this: that it’s a problem, we’re doing a lot to conserve these fish and we’re still not making goals," he said.
According to Newland, biologists are looking for ways to allow for harvest of other species in place of king salmon. “Initially, we’ll be trying to provide for shefish in the lower river, whitefish in other districts as well as summer chum when those fish become available a little later in the season and at that time we’ll be using gear types that allow for the release of King salmon if they are incidentally caught at that time," he said.
Newland says last year’s commercial harvest of chum salmon, also known as dogs, was one of the largest on record. The subsistence harvest last summer was also up for chums, and Fish and Game expects a strong fall chum run this year as well. In the meantime, several research initiatives to investigate the king salmon decline are underway.