FAIRBANKS — Yukon River chinook salmon and the people who depend on them are in desperate need of help. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has failed to meet chinook salmon escapement goals for the Yukon River several times in the past 14 years. Fish and Game’s solution has been to reduce fishing time and even implement complete shutdowns of chinook salmon fisheries. This has caused hardship for the people along the Yukon River who depend on these fish for subsistence and badly needed income.
The 2014 Yukon chinook salmon return is expected to be as poor or even worse compared to 2012 and 2013.
Fish and Game does not know why the returns are so poor. They are blaming high seas bycatch, marine and freshwater environmental factors and ocean productivity. They have even suggested that we might be observing the early stages of a long-term trend.
Bottom line: They don’t know.
Fairbanks has a new sportfish hatchery sitting on the bank of the Chena River, and it will be half empty for the foreseeable future. This hatchery is in the right place at the right time to help get more chinook salmon into the Yukon River. This hatchery can help the Yukon chinook salmon population numbers.
I would hope that the Department of Fish and Game will not fight tooth and nail to prevent this. Rather, we the public hope they would come on board and support this idea. Southeast Alaska salmon hatcheries provide a tremendous economic benefit to the commercial industry. They are greatly appreciated and supported by the public and industry because they provide more fish for subsistence, commercial and sport fisheries.
The new Anchorage sportfish hatchery is releasing chinook and coho salmon into Ship Creek, which is now the biggest sport fishery in the state. This is a recreational and financial success for downtown Anchorage. These fish even contribute to commercial catches in Cook inlet. Hatcheries are an asset. Why can’t the same be done with the Fairbanks fish hatchery to support chinook salmon along the Yukon River and the Tanana, Chena and Salcha rivers?
The Fairbanks hatchery will need funding to start and maintain chinook production for the Yukon. It makes sense for the money to come from the Sustainable Salmon Fund. Sen. Stevens was able to reallocate money from this fund to help get the new sport fish hatchery started in Fairbanks and Anchorage. This is a justifiable use because the Yukon chinook salmon returns are failing and the people in the villages are desperate. This will not be a total cure, but it will help a lot. Now is the time.
Bill Larry is a member of the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee.