Fall chum are expected to begin entering the Yukon River soon, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is projecting another low run for the species after 2021’s record low return. To conserve the salmon, government fishery managers will keep fishing for fall chum closed unless an unexpected surge of the species arrive.
Fish and Game is projecting that less than 300,000 fall chum will return to the Yukon River. That’s fewer than the state’s drainage-wide escapement goal of 300,000 to 600,000 fall chum reaching the spawning grounds. On average, 1 million of these fish return to the Yukon River each year.
To help the fraction of fall chum expected to arrive have a chance to spawn, managers are keeping chum fishing closed.
“I just want to let fishermen know that we’re really sorry that we don’t have better news,” Fish and Game fisheries manager Christy Gleeson said during a weekly teleconference about Yukon salmon hosted by the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association. ”These fish counts are devastating for people trying to live along the Yukon River. We know that it’s been a really difficult fishing season so far with these salmon closures. But we really appreciate everyone coming together and doing continued cooperation during these times of salmon conservation.”
That conservation has led to no salmon fishing for chinook or chum along the river for the second year in a row.
2021 saw the lowest fall chum run on record. This year’s chinook and summer chum runs have continued the same trend from last year. Neither are expected to meet escapement goals set by state and federal fishery managers. The continued closures are economically and culturally straining Yukon River residents.
“We long to taste our fish that we smoked and dried. This is our food, our livelihood,” Russian Mission resident Sandra Kozevnikoff said during the Yukon River salmon teleconference.
Fishing will remain open for other species on the river, including red, pink and coho salmon, along with non-salmon fish.
Another Russian Mission resident, Basil Larson, said during the teleconference that pink salmon are passing by in “full force.” In a six-hour stretch, he and his brother caught enough pinks to feed their dogs for three to four days.
“There’s some pretty good, healthy looking ones that we’re taking and eating, along with the whitefish,” Larson said.
Upriver in Huslia, Lisa Bifelt said that local fishermen were making a 75-mile round-trip to a slough to target sheefish.
“People were having some luck down there, not much though. I think seven was the most caught,” Bifelt said.
But when she boated there with her mother, she said that they didn’t catch anything.
Meanwhile, other callers said that berry picking season had begun, a hopeful abundance of local food amid the historic declines of salmon.