For the first time this year, lower Yukon River fishermen will be allowed to subsistence fish for salmon. The announcement comes as state biologists estimate that king, or Chinook, salmon have almost entirely passed through the lower waters.
State managers opened subsistence salmon fishing at 1 p.m. on July 22 in the lower Yukon Coastal District and Districts 1 through 3. It will remain open until further notice.
Fishermen can use dip nets and hook and line to target salmon species including pink, sockeye, and coho salmon. Chinook and chum salmon cannot be targeted. Any Chinook or chum salmon caught using this selective gear must be released alive to the water. Fishermen can also fish using 4-inch or less mesh gillnets, 60-feet in length, to target non-salmon species.
State assistant manager for the Yukon, Christy Gleason, said that fishermen recently began catching pink salmon in these gillnets.
“We were getting good reports of people catching pink salmon and wanting to make strips out of them for people food and their smokehouses, as well as feed them to their dogs for the mushers,” Gleason said.
Managers ask fishermen to use gillnets in areas outside the main river channel to avoid Chinook and chum. Pink salmon swim in shallow water near the banks. Gleason said that subsistence families began calling in to the river’s weekly teleconferences and into local Alaska Department of Fish and Game offices asking to fish for pinks.
“They've been expressing more interest in catching pink salmon this year than previous years. And people are also expressing that they would like to have a taste of any kind of salmon. And so this opportunity arose from that," Gleason said.
Gleason said that about a quarter of the pink run has passed through the lower Yukon, and the numbers are healthy enough to fish on. Sockeye salmon also favor shallow water near the bank and are passing through the river. Coho are expected to arrive in early August.
Salmon fishing has been closed on the Yukon River since June 2, when the first pulse of Chinook salmon began entering the river. As the season proceeded, Chinook and summer chum numbers remained too low to open subsistence salmon fishing.
State biologists estimate that this year's Chinook run is the fourth lowest run since 1995 and do not expect it to meet escapement goals on many tributaries. The summer chum salmon run is the lowest on record, and its escapement goals are also not expected to be met. State biologists anticipate that the fall chum run will also not meet its escapement goal.