The spring chum salmon run is almost over, and fishermen on the Yukon River are still stuck using dip nets to help conserve king salmon. That’s bad news for the commercial fishery in the lower river.
Kwik'Pak Fisheries manager Jack Schultheis at the Emmonak plant says that high water and tough dip net fishing means that fewer fishermen are on the river, resulting in less fish at the plant.
“Here it is almost July and the chum run will be over in a matter of days,” he said. “And we are about half the normal pack for this time of year.”
Dip nets are not standard commercial gear and fishing with them is hard, physical labor, especially when the water is high. Dip nets are used in the Yukon River summer chum fishery when king returns are low. This summer that return is tracking with 2015, the second lowest king run on record for the Yukon.
Schultheis says that most of the fishermen in the lower Yukon are older, and if they were allowed to use gillnets he is certain there would be 200 out on the river fishing instead of the 30 out there this season.
It is much the same story farther up the Yukon River at St. Mary's, where Fish People has its operation. Kipp Baratoff, the founder of the Oregon company who set up to buy chums last summer, says that the operation this summer is smooth and ready, but that they’re not getting enough fish. He agrees that dip nets are not standard commercial gear, but understands the need to let the kings swim by.
“I want the kings to pass through,” Baratiff said,” so fishermen can get the nets out and really fish on the Yukon commercially.”