Yukon River chum and coho runs remain too low to open subsistence harvest

Chum salmon (NOAA photo)

Both the fall chum salmon and the coho salmon runs on the Yukon River remain too low to open subsistence harvest.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists say they don’t expect either to reach their goals for fish reaching their spawning grounds.

An estimated three quarters of the fall chum salmon run is past the lower river. As of Sunday, the state-run sonar at Pilot Station counted 194,000 fall chum. That’s compared to a historical medium of 486,000 fall chum by that date.

The fall chum that have returned are slightly older than the historical average and with slightly fewer females than the historical average. The fish are also smaller, measuring 26 millimeters less than their historical average length.

Fish and Game biologists sampled 136 fall chum salmon from the lower Yukon River test fishery. The samples showed 66% age four fall chum and 34% age five fall chum. That compares to the historical average of 64% age four and 35% age five, according to Fish and Game Yukon River fishery biologist Andy Padilla. The females totaled 53% of the sample size, which is below the historical average of 56%. The length of the fall chum sampled averaged 566 millimeters, compared to a historical average of 592 millimeters.

The Yukon River coho salmon run is also far below its average run size but coming in higher numbers than last year’s record low. The Pilot Station sonar has counted 43,000 coho, compared to a historical average of 73,000 by this time.

Like the fall chum, the coho are also returning smaller. The coho are averaging 31 millimeters less than their historical average length. The sampled coho length averaged 544 millimeters, compared to a historical average of 575 millimeters.

At Russian Mission, state biologists have attached radio tags to over 118 coho as of Aug. 19. Fish and Game asks anyone catching a coho carrying a tag to call the department at 907-459-7274.

Fishing for fall chum and coho salmon remains closed on the Yukon River. Selective gear types remain allowed, and fall chum must be returned to the water alive. Four-inch mesh gillnets are also allowed.

Yukon River state fishery manager Christy Gleason says mesh size restrictions are unlikely to lift until early October.

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Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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