As Yukon River chinook salmon begin entering the river, Alaska is preparing for another season of strict conservation.
Fishery biologist Sabrina Garcia of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said last week the intent is to implement the same management strategy as last year to ensure at least 42,500 fish reach the Yukon-Alaska border below Dawson City.
Garcia said full closures on fishing for chinook will be imposed on the subsistence fishery as the salmon move up the river.
Restrictions will be placed on fishing gear to minimize the incidental catch of chinook while fishing for summer chum salmon which migrate up the river at around the same time as the chinook, she said.
Garcia said as the chinook pass through the different districts, for instance, the subsistence fishery will be required to use dip nets while fishing for chum so that any chinook caught can be easily released, she said.
As of this morning, the sonar at Pilot Station located 200 kilometres upriver from the mouth has recorded a total of 3,074 chinook passing by, including 1,178 recorded Sunday, the highest daily count so far.
The chinook salmon run has been in trouble for the past several years, and scientists are not sure why. For the first time in history last year, Alaska shut down its subsistence chinook fishery and Yukon First Nations called for a full closure of the aboriginal food fishery on this side of the border.
Garcia said scientists are expecting the first large pulse of chinook around June 15, which would see the first pulse arrive at the border in mid-July.
Scientists are predicting a total run of between 118,000 and 140,000 chinook, approximately half of which are salmon of Yukon origin.
Executive director Dennis Zimmermann of the Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee said last week committee members are currently meeting with First Nations and local renewable resource councils to finalize this season’s management strategy.
“From the Canadian perspective, it will be the same as last year,” he said.
Zimmermann said the salmon sub-committee will soon be forwarding its official recommendation to the federal minister of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for approval.
Post-season analysis of the 2014 chinook run estimated there were 2,700 chinook taken by Alaska’s subsistence fishery through incidental catches and such.
By comparison, in the previous five years, the annual subsistence harvest averaged 31,134 chinook.
In years gone by, it was unusual for Alaska’s subsistence fishery to take 50,000 chinook.
It’s estimated 63,431 chinook reached the border below Dawson last year. The total aboriginal harvest was estimated at 100, largely for ceremonial purposes.
In years gone by, it wasn’t unusual for the Yukon’s aboriginal fishery to take anywhere from 4,000 to 8,000 chinook.
Some Yukon First Nations have suggested closing the fishery for a full life cycle of seven or eight years to give the chinook a chance to rebound.
There has been no commercial chinook fishery to speak of on either side of the border for several years.