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Yukon River Panel Holds Preseason Meeting

Chinook salmon
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Chinook salmon

(Fairbanks, Ak) The Yukon River Panel, a joint Alaska-Canada salmon advisory organization held a multi-day pre-season meeting this week in Anchorage. Panel members heard presentations and public comments on a range of salmon issues, including a recent Alaska Canada agreement to close Chinook fishing for 7 years.

Wednesday’s agenda included presentations by biologists on 2024 salmon run forecasts. Deena Jallen with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said another weak return of Yukon River Chinook is anticipated.

“We have a forecast of 45 thousand to 68 thousand fish, with a median value of 56 thousand fish, and as a reminder the 2023 drainage wide run size for chinook salmon was 58 thousand fish, and no escapement goals were met in Alaska or Canada, so we’re anticipating a very low run, similar to last year, or smaller.”

About forty percent of Yukon River Chinook are Canadian origin, and Jallen said the outlook for those stocks is similarly bleak.

“Nineteen thousand to 28 thousand fish with median value of 23 thousand fish and that’s below the border passage objective of 71 thousand fish, and the projected border passage could be as low as 9 to 19 thousand fish.”

About 15 thousand chinook crossed the border last year. An agreement signed by Alaska and Canadian fishery managers last month halts the harvest of Chinook on the mainstem of the Yukon, as well as Canadian tributaries, for 7 years in an attempt to rebuild border passage to 71 the thousand fish objective. Panel member Elizabeth MacDonald of Whitehorse spoke in support of the agreement, which includes development of measures to grow back the Chinook run, which has been on a downward trajectory for 3 decades.

“If we’re not changing and trying to make things better for them like that rebuilding plan, we are likely looking at the extinction of our chinook.”

During public testimony, Norma Kassi of Whitehorse said the Alaska Canada chinook harvest moratorium agreement has been many years in the making.

“This is an important step forward, I think. Our ancient ways always have to have a place, and our ways is to leave a place alone if the animals are declining.”

Kassi, who directs an Indigenous research organization, talked about a new program that will educate a group of young people from Canada and Alaska about traditional knowledge as well as western science and politics to better understand salmon and what threatens them.

“To learn about climatic changes and what has happened to our spawning grounds and in the oceans. They will look at the hydro dams, mining industry, sports fishing, as well as large scale commercial trawling.”

Alaska side upper river fisher Carrie Stevens underscored that local people stopped harvesting chinook years ago, and said broader measures are needed.

“We are already standing down. The numbers are not changing, and it is the nation state’s attempt to not address further issues: the trawling, Area M.”

The Yukon River Panel wrapped up its preseason meeting Thursday. It plans to reconvene in the fall to work on development of the chinook rebuilding plan required by the Alaska-Canada agreement. ###