Alaska Native News
By GW Rastopsoff
June 20, 2012
Those words from Alaska Department of Fish and Game Biologist Steve Hayes on his observation of the Yukon River King Salmon run bode ill for subsistence fishermen on the river.
This year’s escapement of Kings on the Yukon was predicted to be between 109,000 and 146,000. The escapement of 4,500 so far through the sonar counter at Pilot Station is a far cry from even the lower number. The average for this time of year is 45,000.
But, the subsistence fishermen on the river need to see numbers closer to 146,000 to minimumly meet their subsistence needs for this season.
Biologists are hoping that the run is late on account of the amount of coastal ice that have been present until just a few, short days ago. Historically, the run takes place earlier with 25% of the run of Kings past the counting station by June 15th. Even on late years the run has reached those numbers by June 20th, although it has gone as late as June 25th.
Chum Fishermen on the river have seen their mesh size drop to six inches from 7.5 as Fish and Game tries to minimize the catch of King Salmon on the river.
Like recent years, the state will begin closing the river to subsistence fishermen for five days at a time in an effort to let Kings escape upriver. This will begin tomorrow. If the escapement doesn’t look up within the next few days, even harsher measures are sure to come.
The Governor and Fish and Game commissioner Cora Campbell met with Myron Naneng, the head of the Association of Village Council Presidents, this week, where Naneng asked the Governor to declare a disaster for the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers because of the the dismal run this year. Campbell said given the late ice conditions this year, it was too early to panic. “Based on what we’re seeing across the state, we don’t expect it to be strong,” Campbell said of the Yukon king run. “But it is early in the run and we want people to keep that in mind.”
The decline in King Salmon has been significant since 2006. Alaska’s King Salmon range the furthest west of all of Alaska’s salmon as they migrate through the high seas.