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Canadian Biologist Says Few Management Options Are Left Despite High Chinook Escapement This Year

Fairbanks, AK - The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports this summer’s run of Chinook salmon on the Yukon River is complete, but across the border, the fish are still swimming upstream, headed for their spawning grounds.  Canadian management strategies are also aimed at conserving a dwindling king salmon population.

In recent years and on both sides of the Canada-Alaska border biologists have collaborated on how best to manage King salmon. Mary Ellen Jarvis is a biologist with Canada’s department of Fisheries and Oceans in Whitehorse, Yukon.  “So one of the things that comes into play is harvest shares,” she says.

Similar to Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game, Jarvis and her colleagues estimate the abundance of fish each year to determine a reasonable harvest level. “Yeah, we’ve had numerous years, most of the last seven years, where we’ve had to put into place closures or voluntary restrictions on the first nations fishery," explains Jarvis.  "Which is the first nations fishery in Canada, which is much like your subsistence fishery in the US.”

This year, Yukon River king salmon exceeded the escapement goal in both Alaska and Canada, but Jarvis says even so, Canada’s First Nations declined opportunities to fish for kings, partly because sampling data this year show low numbers of female fish. “I don’t think there’s much more you can do than close the fishery," Jarvis says.  "We’ve been restricted or closed in our fisheries for most of the last seven years, so at this point I don’t know that there’s much more you can do than have a zero harvest in Canada.”

Jarvis says two of Canada’s First Nation’s took Chinooks this year for ceremonial purposes.  She says most of the rest of Canada’s indigenous population opted instead to buy fish from other fisheries.
“Most of the first nations have purchased fish form other location including the Stikine River as well as the Skeena River in British Columbia.  So, they’ve purchased sockeye salmon in order for their First Nations to have feed of salmon.”

In Alaska, biologists expect the King Salmon run to at least meet escapement on the Yukon River next year, but Jarvis says it’s not just about the number of fish.  She says it’s also about the quality of the run.