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Chum salmon counts are lower than ever in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta

Empty boats line the shore in St. Mary's after a summer with next to no subsistence salmon fishing on the Yukon River.
Olivia Ebertz

Chum salmon counts are lower than ever this year in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) announced on June 21 that this summer has seen the lowest ever summer chum runs as of this date on the Yukon River. That’s according to a sonar at Anvik. The sonar has counted 843 summer chum salmon, which ADF&G said is below the median of 1,737 fish as of June 21. The department said that Chinook counts are well below average too. On the Kuskokwim, ADF&G said that this year’s chum run is tracking nearly identically to last year’s record lows.

On June 21, residents along the Yukon River gathered on a weekly teleconference where residents and managers discuss salmon. Basil Larson, a fisherman in Russian Mission, said that fish camps are looking even more neglected this year than last year.

“At all the fish camps, you know, grasses are growing in,” said Larson.

State and federal managers have closed the entire lower Yukon River to Chinook and chum fishing. Larson said that many residents aren’t interested in non-salmon species.

“There's nobody's even hardly trying,” said Larson.

Most who are targeting whitefish have dog teams. And many lower river residents don’t own the gear required to fish right now. That’s according to Alberta Walker from Anvik. She said that residents feel like they’re missing out.

“Fishermen wish there was fishing,” said Walker.

Though residents are not allowed to target Chinook or chum, if they accidentally catch and kill one in 4-inch mesh, they can keep it. Fishers can catch pinks and sockeyes.

State and federal managers have announced Chinook and chum closures for the middle and upper rivers too. Each section closes before salmon arrive, effectively canceling subsistence fishing for the species this summer. The entire river is set to be closed by the end of June through August.

A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed the Anvik sonar count to the Pilot Station sonar count.

Olivia was a News Reporter for KYUK from 2020-2022.
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