Yukon River chum coming in slow


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
August 16, 2009

The Yukon River fall chum salmon run has been disappointing, to say the least.

As of Friday only 150,000 fish had passed a sonar counter at Pilot Station, about 120 miles upstream from the mouth of the Yukon, the fewest fish recorded for that date since sonar counting began in 1995. In a normal year, more than 350,000 fish would have passed the village by now.

“I don’t know if it will be a record low run but it’s tracking low right now,” Fred Bue, Yukon fall chum manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told the Anchorage Daily News. “It’s unusually late. Everybody says the fish are coming; it’s just not fall time yet. Whatever is happening, the fall chum are slow in getting here.”

Managers forecasted 650,000 fall chums this year. There’s a chance the run is later than normal, Bue said, but it’s not looking good.

A poor fall chum will compound problems for fishermen on the middle and upper Yukon River who did not catch enough kings this year because of restrictions placed on fishermen to get more king salmon to their Canadian spawning grounds.

The main parent year for this year’s run was 2005, which produced a record-high spawning escapement of approximately 1.8 million. Conversely, the record-high escapement in 2005 came from two of the poorest fall chum returns on record in 2001 and 2002.

It’s possible that too many fall chums reached the spawning grounds in 2005, which could somehow be contributing to this year’s failure. That phenomenon has been documented with red salmon, Bue said. Too many chums on spawning grounds could potentially produce more bacteria as a result of decomposing fish, which could lead to disease, he said.

Managers do not think restrictions on subsistence fishing will be necessary. According to Bue, biologists say the run likely will meet the minimum escapement goal of 300,000 fish without cutting fishing time.

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