The preseason outlook for Yukon River salmon anticipates a Chinook run similar to last year. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Yukon River area manager Holly Carroll says the run is predicted to
again come in somewhere within the ten-year average of between 144,000 and 220,000 Kings.
"That's a range of run size that could allow for, at the lower end, a little bit of harvest and a lot of restriction, or at the upper end, much more liberal harvest and even some potential for commercial sale of Chinook that are caught incidentally in the Chum fishery.”
Last year, the king tally at the river’s mouth was strong, and despite conservative Alaska side harvest, escapement into Canada fell short of a minimum of a quota. Carroll says it remains unclear what happened to about twenty thousand Canada bound Kings, but points to record warm river temperatures.
"We didn't see any evidence of the Chinook die-off that we saw of the summer Chum. We saw lots of dead summer Chum in the Koyukuk RIver and other tributaries. So, a lot of speculation about what happened last year.”
Carroll says the 2019 experience is not changing this year’s management approach and that as normal Yukon River biologists will rely on a sonar fish counter at Pilot Station, and numerous upriver escapement assessments, efforts she cautions are threatened by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
"We're still trying to figure out which projects we'll operate, based on the ability to get a crew into these communities safely and make sure that we're not transmitting the virus to communities or amongst the crew. For some of the projects, we have been working closely with the communities, some of them are waiting for approval from the communities, some of them, the community has said, 'no thanks, it seems unsafe at this time.'”
Carroll emphasizes that loss of the Pilot Station sonar counter, would cripple managers.
"Then we are flying, essentially blind, and we would need to have a completely different management strategy, managing closer to the lowest end of the forecast.”
Carroll says it’s looking more hopeful that the Pilot Station sonar will operate, enabling more flexible management, but also notes concern about overharvest due to COVID-driven food security fears, and encourages fishers to instead catch more abundant chum and coho salmon, and whitefish.