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Yukon River king salmon run called "dismal"

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Posted: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 11:57 pm | Updated: 5:47 pm, Thu Aug 1, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Even with tight restrictions placed on Yukon River subsistence fishermen this summer, it doesn’t look like enough king salmon will make it to their Canadian spawning grounds to satisfy an international treaty.

As of Tuesday, only about 20,000 kings had been counted past a sonar located 16 miles from the Canadian border near Eagle. The Pacific Salmon Treaty between Alaska and Canada calls for a minimum of 42,500 kings at the sonar.

“Despite taking all the actions we have taken to protect fish, it looks like we’re going to be short of reaching our goals into Canada and a few of Alaska’s tributaries,” Eric Newland, area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Commercial Fisheries, said in a teleconference Tuesday to update fishermen on what’s happening with the Yukon River king run. “It’s dismal.”

While this year’s sonar count at Eagle is about 2,000 fish higher than last year’s at this time, restrictions placed on fishermen this year were stricter than last year and biologists were hoping more fish would make it to Canada as a result.

“We’re pretty close to last year, but we also have been a little more stringent with closures and gear restrictions,” Newland said.

ADFG closed fishing on the first two pulses of kings to enter the Yukon River and limited fishermen to nets with only 6-inch mesh size instead of 7 1/2 inch, a move designed to get more kings to Canada.

“Everybody is taking a hit, and we’re not seeing a whole lot of extra benefit,” Newland said. “It’s very frustrating.”

The Eagle sonar count for king salmon crossing the border last year was about 35,000. Newland said it’s questionable whether the escapement will climb even that high this year, based on numbers. The daily number of fish passing the sonar has been between 1,000 and 2,000 since July 18, and Newland doesn’t expect it to climb any higher.

“We’d be happy to maintain the level we’re at for another week,” he said.

In an effort to protect fish headed for the border, king salmon subsistence fishing in district 5D between Stevens Village  and Eagle on the upper Yukon has been closed for the rest of the season.

Many of Alaska’s spawning streams also have come up short of fish, including the Chena River. It and the Salcha River are the two biggest Alaska contributors to the Yukon River king run.

As of Tuesday, only 1,638 kings had been counted in the Chena at the Moose Creek Dam in North Pole. The minimum spawning objective is 2,800 fish.

The Salcha, meanwhile, had seen 4,575 kings as of Tuesday but, which is more than the minimum spawning goal of 3,300 fish but still below normal.

“We’re not seeing better counts (than last year) anywhere,” Newland said. “Across the board it’s a little bit worse. Even the Salcha is not quite as good as last year.”

One bright spot is that technicians counting kings in the Salcha River have reported seeing some big kings go by, he said.

“We’re hopeful the quality of escapement will be better than last year,” Newland said. “Maybe we’ll see a larger, more female component.”

Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.

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