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High Water Combining with Gear Restrictions to Limit Subsistence Harvests Along Yukon

Map showing locations of the 31 Chinook populations in the baseline (dots) and 9 fine scale reporting regions (shaded areas). Image: ADFG.

High water is keeping subsistence fishermen from the Nulato Hills to the middle of the Yukon River from harvesting summer Chum salmon.

Yesterday the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association held its weekly teleconference on fishery management. A caller from Nulato who identified himself as Arnold said the high water combined with gear restrictions to protect Chinook runs means some subsistence users are not fishing at all.

“Water is too high,” Arnold said. “There’s drift in the river. Nobody has dipnets. And before that we were limited to four-inch mesh, which nobody has four-inch, I don’t think. And nobody’s been fishing.”

A caller from Russian Mission by the name of Basil said this year’s gear restrictions are limiting catches and competing with seasonal changes that will restrict the amount of food people are able to put away.

Basil explained: “It’s hard to catch Chum with four-inch nets and dipnets. Everybody is pretty much hoping, waiting and hoping, that you guys would lift the restrictions to six-inch dipnets just for even like just a couple days, just to harvest the Chum we need to make up from no Kings. Cause we’ve got to air dry these fish before the flies come around, and it’s hard to hit that goal with the restrictions and gear.”

Unable to meet their subsistence needs, callers in Galena said fishermen are planning to target other fish like fall Chum. Meanwhile, callers in Tanana said local fishermen are so distraught by the subsistence salmon situation that they do not want to talk about the issue. A man named Victor from the area said the community, though reluctant, is doing its part to help strengthen future Chinook runs.

“People are obliging, reluctantly obliging. But we realize we’ve all got to do our part to preserve the King salmon and try to get a good come back,” Victor said.

Multiple callers from Canada thanked the Alaska efforts for conserving Chinook runs, saying they too are concerned about low stocks and are supporting Chinook harvest closures in Canadian waters.

Dennis Zimmerman is with the Canadian-based Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee and said, “We’ve obviously been feeling the hardships here in Canada, and we haven’t been able to fish for a long time. But we’re really thankful for all the sacrifices on the U.S. side, and we just thank you for working hard to sacrifice there.”

Stephanie Schmidt with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported the Chinook runs this year are tracking four days to a week earlier than historical early averages, and it might be one of the earliest runs on record.

The first pulse of Chinook that entered the Yukon in late May are expected to be passing through District Four this week. The second Chinook pulse began passing through the lower Yukon over the weekend. The total passage of Chinook through the Yukon as of June 16 is approximately 51,000 fish, according to counts from ADFG’s Sonar Project near Pilot Station.

The same project estimate a total passage of summer Chum salmon at 300,910 as of June 15. Schmidt said the Chum run is starting to build and should reach Russian Mission by Friday.