Fisheries officials fear the number of Chinook salmon in the Yukon River will set a record low this season, while subsistence fisheries in Yukon and Alaska are being asked to reduce how much they catch.
The Yukon River Chinook run has been turning up later than expected this year, and early counts of fish entering the Canadian side of the river are lower than previously predicted.
"At Rampart Rapids, the project there … has the lowest index value in the last 10 years," Sandy Johnston, a stock assessment manager with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Whitehorse, said Wednesday.
"Although it's still early in the season, the count estimate at Eagle, based on sonar, is the lowest in the last five years."
Johnston said given the later than expected run so far, many on the U.S. side of the Yukon River in Alaska are still waiting for their first chance to fish.
Some were angry to hear that fishermen at the mouth of the river accidentally took about 9,000 Chinook while fishing for chum salmon last week.
"I think [that] would have upper river users a bit concerned," Johnston said.
Johnston said the first big pulse of Chinook salmon should enter the Yukon side of the river — where the fish go to spawn — next week, with the pre-season forecast of 50,000 Chinook salmon still in effect.
"That's a relatively low number of fish. That would be enough to satisfy the First Nation fishery, but wouldn't allow much room for other fishers," Johnston said.
At least one Yukon First Nation has called on others to voluntarily cut back on how much fish they harvest.
The Yukon's aboriginal subsistence fishery harvests an average of about 8,000 Chinook salmon each year.