Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for August 22, 2013

Season has turned in a dismal chinook run

The run of chinook salmon up the Yukon River is pretty much done, says Alaskan biologist Eric Newland.

By Chuck Tobin on August 22, 2013 at 2:43 pm

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

TALKING SALMON – While biologists contemplated the season’s poor Yukon River chinook run, the Whitehorse Rapids Fishway held its annual customer appreciation night Wednesday evening. Here, the facility’s Tony Nguyen discusses the salmon with visitors.

The run of chinook salmon up the Yukon River is pretty much done, says Alaskan biologist Eric Newland.

He said Wednesday the Aug. 19 count at the Eagle Sonar will likely go down as the official number of fish that reached the Yukon-Alaska border on the main stem, which does not include the Porcupine River drainage system.

With a tally of 30,725 past Eagle, to the end of Monday, the run is being described as poor – poorer than last year’s poor run.

Mary Ellen Jarvis, resource manager for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said today she expects the return will result in a subsistence harvest by the Yukon’s First Nation communities which is smaller than last year.

And last year’s aboriginal fishery in the Yukon took 2,000 chinook, the lowest number in 40 years.

She said she probably won’t have a reliable estimate on the harvest numbers until the end of the month.

Toward the end of last week, with the bulk of the chinook run already done, the harvest was sitting at about 1,000 fish, she pointed out.

Jarvis said First Nations have been calling on the citizens to take a conservative approach to fishing this year, since the early spring pre-season chinook forecast was calling for another below-average year for the run.

As the migration of chinook salmon has fallen off in recent years, commercial fishing has been throttled back substantially on both sides of the border.

This summer is the seventh in a row where commercial fishing for chinook has been closed in the Yukon.

Salmon managers on both sides of the border were initially predicting a chinook return below the 2012 count of 34,656.

Even last year’s return was well below the desired target of 42,500 fish available – after the harvest – for spawning in the Yukon.

The Alaskan biologist said they have some head-scratching to do over the coming months to figure out how their estimate early in the run didn’t materialize at the border.

While officials were predicting a run worse than last year’s, as the salmon started showing up at the Pilot Station sonar near the mouth of the Yukon, there was renewed optimism about the numbers.

Genetic sampling was showing 70 per cent of a strong first pulse in late June was Canadian fish.

Newland said the final tally at the Yukon-Alaska border does not reflect the optimism and renewed predictions after the run started.

In a conference call last week among communities all along the Yukon River, people wanted to know what happened to the first pulse, he said.

Newland said in reality, there are variables in the science.

Murky river conditions during the spring melt could have affected sonar accuracy at Pilot Station, or the size of the genetic sample taken from chinook in the first pulse may have been off, he said.

Newland acknowledges Alaska did not meet its international treaty obligation of ensuring at least 42,500 chinook made it to the border.

But the state did try, he insisted.

Newland said Alaska reduced the size of mesh on nets from 7.5 inches down to 6.5 inches, and closed all subsistence fishing to protect the first pulse as it moved upriver, he explained.

“We were happy with that first pulse, the size of it passing Pilot, and the genetics,” Newland said.

“And to see such a performance at the Eagle sonar is disappointing, for sure.”

Scientists readily admit they cannot pinpoint the cause of the diminishing chinook run up the Yukon River.

In recent years, Alaska has been under mounting pressure from the Yukon to take a larger part in conservation, much to the dislike of the state’s subsistence food fishery, which sees the harvest of chinook as an inherent right.

As a rule of thumb, scientists estimate 50 per cent of fish caught by Alaska’s subsistence fishery are of Yukon origin and were heading to the Yukon.

Last year, Alaska’s subsistence fishery harvested 26,065 chinook, the lowest since 1978, according to records.

Newland said they won’t have an estimate of this year’s subsistence harvest until after their annual survey of their Yukon River communities.

The run of fall chum salmon has begun, and it’s expected to be in the area of 800,000 to 900,000.

Alaska biologist Jeff Estensen said Tuesday while the forecast is below the annual average of one million fall chum, it’s still large enough to allow for a full commercial and subsistence fishery.

Jarvis said she too anticipates a full commercial and subsistence fishery for fall chum in the Yukon.

Last year, Yukoners harvested 7,023 fall chum while Alaska took 383,849.

CommentsAdd a comment

Frank Smit

Aug 23, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Could the lower river and Eagle sonar estimates both be off?
Was there unreported fishing in the US subsistence fishery?

I hope no one gives up on these fish. They deserve the highest level of management to get through this low period.
Sure, check your numbers, sharpen your pencils and come back next year with management which will offer the highest level of protection.

Brian Hessling

Aug 24, 2013 at 7:20 am

Salmon, and the way of life they contribute to, are the soul of the North. I fear that this ultimately is about what’s going on in the ocean. The Russian fleet, the Pan Asian fleet. Do we really have any idea what they’re taking?

David Beans

Aug 27, 2013 at 10:00 pm

I am from the lower Yukon village of St. Mary’s, 114,000 Chinook past the Pilot Station sonar- where did they all go? The first and second pulse was protected up the lower and middle Yukon as far as I know. I hope we can find out what is happening to the fish. I believe a lot of fish are caught in the Bering Sea by High sea fishermen because there used to be twice the amount of kings that came in the Yukon 15 years ago. Investigate the big sea fishery.

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