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Low King Salmon Runs In Western Alaska Trigger Bering Sea Bycatch Caps

Kuskokwim king salmon caught near Bethel, Alaska on June 12, 2018.
Katie Basile

Unofficial estimates of this summer’s king salmon run in Western Alaska rivers show a lower than average return, which will trigger stricter limits on the Bering Sea pollock fishery’s bycatch caps for king salmon next year. 

State biologists said that about 129,000 king salmon returned to the Kuskokwim River this year. Of those, the state estimates that about 28,000 were harvested, and 101,000 made their way upriver to spawn. 

The state’s escapement goal of 65,000 to 120,000 kings was met, but federal and tribal managers’ escapement goal of 110,000 king salmon was not. This year’s king salmon run is slightly higher than last year’s estimated run size of 116,000 king salmon, but much lower than the 2019 run of 233,000.

State biologists are not entirely confident on initial estimates of this year’s run, however. Poor weather conditions prevented the Alaska Department of Fish and Game from flying aerial surveys during the 2021 fishing season. That means that the actual king salmon run could be much lower or much higher than estimated.

The upper Yukon River king salmon return fared even worse. State biologists estimate that 33,000 king salmon returned to the upper Yukon, which was below preseason estimates and a 36% decrease from last year.

Further north, less than 3,000 king salmon swam up the Unalakleet River, a 45% decrease from the previous year.

Because the Chinook salmon runs on the Kuskokwim, upper Yukon, and Unalakleet Rivers were low this year, the Bering Sea pollock fishery will be held to lower Chinook salmon bycatch caps next season, according to regulations set by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council in 2015.

State biologists have not released preliminary estimates for the run sizes of other species of salmon. However, in-season estimates of chum salmon returns on both the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers were the lowest on record.


Greg Kim was a news reporter for KYUK from 2019-2022.
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