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Here's how many Kuskokwim salmon ADF&G estimates made escapement in 2021

Elyssa Loughlin
Kuskokwim chum salmon caught on August 20, 2021.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released its estimates of the 2021 Kuskokwim River salmon escapement. Escapement refers to the fish that escape harvest nets to swim to the headwaters to spawn.

The state estimates that 129,000 Chinook salmon entered the river, and 101,000 Chinook got to the spawning streams. This amount met the state’s escapement goal, but fell short of the goal of 110,000 fish jointly set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. However, the 101,000 figure is an estimate. The State says the run size could have been between 66,000 to 150,000 fish. The Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission says it was a bad summer for counting fish: poor weather prevented aerial surveillance, which can lead to a less accurate count.

Last year’s total Chinook run fell below the historical average, but held similar to recent years’ estimated run sizes. It was slightly higher than the estimated 2020 run of 124,000 Chinook, but exceeded the estimated 2020 escapement of 88,000 Chinook.

Kuskokwim River weirs also met the state’s Chinook escapement goals, as did the aerial surveys of Chinook in Kuskokwim Bay.

The state forecasts that a similar number of Chinook salmon will return to the Kuskokwim this coming summer. Its forecast range is for 99,000 to 161,000 Chinook returning.

For sockeye salmon, the state reported a mixed escapement “with above-average lake-type sockeye salmon escapement, and below-average river-type sockeye salmon escapement,” according to its report. Preliminary data of the last year’s sockeye run indicated a slightly smaller run than the last 12-year average. The state sonar project estimated that 745,037 sockeye passed Bethel in the river.

For silver salmon, the state used two weirs on Kuskokwim River tributaries to estimate escapement. A weir on the George River measured a 31,491 escapement that fell above the weir’s 10-year average of 22,462 silvers. The other weir on the Kogrukluk River measured a 14,373 escapement, just above the lower end of the state’s escapement goal of 13,000 to 28,000 silvers.

For chum salmon, the state estimates that last year’s run marked the lowest on record and did not meet escapement goals.

Subsistence harvest data for all Kuskokwim salmon species is still being calculated by the state.

Harvest numbers are available from the commercial Kuskokwim Bay fishery. That harvest totaled 2,582 Chinook, 14,204 silvers, 114,425 sockeye, and 5,845 chum.

This story has been updated to include information about last year's Chinook surveillance shortcomings.

Anna Rose MacArthur is the KYUK News Director. She has worked at KYUK since 2015 and previously worked at KNOM in Nome, Alaska.
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