Yukon Summer Chum Still Lowest On Record; Chinook Numbers Low Too
Yukon River Chinook and summer chum salmon are both coming in near or below the lower end of the preseason forecast. There’s concern about escapement, and fishing closures have left river residents without a staple of their diet.
The Yukon River Fisheries Drainage Association hosts weekly teleconferences where river residents, fishery organization leaders, and government resource managers talk about what’s happening with salmon up and down the river. There wasn't much positive news during the June 29 teleconference. Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission chair Brooke Woods shared a dismal Chinook count from the Pilot Station sonar near the river’s mouth.
“As of Monday, June 28, just over 60,000 kings have been counted at the Pilot Station sonar station, and that is only half the average count for the state,” said Woods.
Woods said that it’s estimated to be about midway through the Chinook run. If things don’t change, a border passage agreement with Canada, as well as drainage wide escapement, won’t be met.
“And if we’re not able to meet escapement goals, this will be the third year in a row,” she said.
The situation is even worse for summer chum. State research biologist Fred West said that just 31,000 fish are estimated to have passed the Pilot Station sonar as of June 28, well below the historic median of 500,000.
“The lowest on record for this date, and this is lower than the runs we saw in 2000 and 2001,” said West.
“This year is a tough year. I really feel that everyone is really struggling this year, we know it’s really hard. If there were fish to be harvested I would be wanting to let people harvest, but there’s just no fish to be harvested, so it just has to be closed,” said Deena Jallen, the state’s summer season management biologist.
The Chinook and summer chum salmon fishing closure extends from the Yukon River’s headwaters to its mouth, as well as area coastal communities. Hooper Bay resident John Rivers lamented the situation.
“I’ve never seen Hooper Bay closed ever since I was a little boy, to this day. It’s so sad to see it’s closed. Right now we are in panic mode,” said Rivers.
Martin Kelly of Pilot Station said that communities need help filling the food void.
“Hopefully the state with fish and game and everybody else better be prepared to go get some crab, and halibut, and pollock, and bring it to each household on the Yukon River,” he said.
Application for a federal disaster declaration is already in the works, according to Stephanie Quinn Davidson, Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Director for the Tanana Chiefs Conference.
"Just so folks know, that disaster declaration process takes a long time. We don’t anticipate that funding would be available to fishermen for at least a year, maybe possibly two years," said Quinn Davidson.
Quinn Davidson said that a request submitted for a disaster declaration for last summer’s poor Yukon River salmon runs was just recently forwarded by the state to the federal government.