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Fall Chum Could Be Best Chance for Yukon Salmon Harvest

With Chinook and summer chum runs nearing completion amid tight restrictions, fishermen along the upriver Yukon Drainage are looking to fall chum for their best chance of harvesting salmon this season.

“There’s only probably one family that’s doing subsistence fishing. Here in Kaltag, we’re all waiting for our fall chum run,” said Fred Alexie during the weekly Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association teleconference on Tuesday. “Our fishermen are anxious to go and I don’t want Fish & Game to come in at the last minute and say you can’t use six inch mesh or less, you know? Because a lot of us can’t afford to buy new gear at the last minute.”

While surprisingly strong chum numbers allowed for openings along the Lower Yukon in late June and early July, communities upriver are having a rough summer with fewer openings, more restrictions—overall, less opportunity even though summer chum are on track to meet escapement goals this season.

“One fisherman did report trying to dip net but did not have any luck. So nobody here has reached any of their subsistence needs. We haven’t had an opener yet,” said Sandy from Galena in another report.

Current restrictions are in place to protect Chinook salmon, but gear limitations, such as lowering mesh size, are interfering with the chum salmon harvest, as well. However, those restrictions seem to be effective. As of July 7, the Chinook salmon run is estimated to be 98 percent complete, with 132,000 fish passing ADF&G’s sonar project near Pilot Station. Though officials are still waiting to consider openings for Chinook harvest, they anticipate the fish will meet escapement.

With summer runs wrapping up, fall management begins on July 16 in Y1, and people are hoping for more opportunity on the river. ADF&G fishery biologist Jeff Estensen says the pre-season forecast for fall chum is between 800,000 and 1 million fish, which should provide well for subsistence and limited commercial opportunity. Estensen says he understands this has been a difficult season for fishing families because of the Chinook, and keeps that in mind for fall management.

“Things are looking good for fall chum right now, there’s no reason to believe they won’t pan out the way we think they’re going to,” said Estensen. “But we’re certainly going to be watching things day to day to make sure we’re getting enough fish upriver for the folks particularly in District 5 that are going to be looking at this as their only opportunity for salmon.”

Over the past three years, subsistence harvest has increased for fall chum and Estensen says it should go up again this year. For current fishing openings and regulations, check ADF&G‘s regulation announcements.