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Yukon sees return of the kings: This year's chinook salmon run strongest in more than a decade

News-Miner opinion: After years of returns that ranged between frighteningly low and middling, prospects for chinook salmon on the Yukon River may have finally turned a corner. Even with this year’s run not yet complete, escapement goals on lower Yukon counting stations have already been met and exceeded. As pulses of fish make their way up the river, it appears near certain the fish returning to spawn will comfortably satisfy Alaska Department of Fish and Game escapement goals and treaty obligations with Canada. That’s great news for a fishery upon which dozens of Interior villages rely, and a hopeful sign that a rebound for Yukon chinooks may now be in full effect.

Pilot Station is the sonar project that provides Fish and Game with a snapshot of the run strength as salmon begin swimming upstream from the Bering Sea. Salmon begin swimming past in early June and are now close to the end of their transit past the station. The 258,946 chinooks that have passed by the Pilot Station sonar so far this year make the run the strongest since 2005 (259,015 chinooks total) and a near-certainty to become the strongest run since 2003, when 318,088 chinooks came up the river. That year was the strongest in more than 20 years of counting — the largest chinook run since 1995, the earliest year that sonar counts are available.

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