Last summer’s total harvest of Yukon River chinook was lower than the 2017 catch but the second-highest in the last seven years going back to 2012.
Estimates put the harvest for 2018 at 35,111.
Of that figure, 32,013 were taken by Alaska’s subsistence fishery while the Yukon’s Indigenous food fishery harvested 3,098, including 308 caught by the Gwitchin on the Porcupine River near Old Crow.
Long gone are the days when the total harvest regularly exceeded 150,000 chinook back in the 1980s and early 1990s, according to numbers produced by the joint technical committee of representatives from both sides of the border.
Rebuilding the stocks remains a priority and a concern – a concern raised again this week in Whitehorse at the spring meeting of the Yukon River Panel.
The panel oversees the management of all salmon stocks on the Yukon River. It meets twice a year: once in December to review the previous season, and again April to discuss pre-season management outlooks for the upcoming season.
Scientists have said the dramatic fall in the chinook salmon stocks are not related to harvest levels but are likely related to changing environmental conditions.
There has been no commercial fishing on either side of the border for several years.
This year’s goal on the Yukon side for the mainstem of the river is to ensure at least 42,500 to 55,000 chinook reach their spawning beds, as has been the case for several years.
The escapement target has been achieved in the last five seasons. In 2018, it’s estimated 54,474 chinook made it to their spawning grounds, down from 68,357 in 2017 but up substantially since the run of 2013, when an estimated 28,669 chinook spawned.
It was following the 2013 season that Yukon First Nations called loudly for a voluntary ban on fishing for chinook. The Yukon’s food fishery took just 100 chinook in 2014, instead of the several thousand harvested historically.
Alaska’s subsistence fishery harvested 3,287 in 2014, the lowest subsistence harvest on record.
But the annual subsistence harvest in Alaska has climbed back up to over 30,000 in the last two years, and the Yukon harvest has risen to 3,000 or more chinook in the last three years.
By comparison, the total Yukon River harvest of chinook salmon in 1995 was 200,632: Alaska’s subsistence fishery harvested 50,620, and its commercial fishery took an estimated 124,000; Yukon’s food fishery harvested just over 9,000 in 1995 and the commercial fishery based in Dawson City took an estimated 11,146.
Last year’s escapement of fall chum salmon in the Yukon along the mainstem of the river exceeded the minimum escapement goal 104,000 for the ninth year in a row, according to the joint technical committee’s report.
It’s estimated 157,083 went by the Eagle sonar just below the Yukon-Alaska border.
Approximately 2,957 fall chum were harvested on the mainstem by the Yukon’s subsistence and commercial fisheries, leaving 154,126 for spawning.
It’s estimated 928,664 fall chum passed by the Pilot Station sonar in Alaska near the mouth of the river, as they began their migration upriver.
Alaska’s total harvest was estimated at 453,670, with its commercial industry harvesting 387,788 and its subsistence fishery taking 64,494.