Yukon River chinook salmon fishing restrictions likely to continue in Alaska

Fishing restrictions aimed at helping Yukon River chinook salmon numbers recover will continue, according to Alaskan officials at a Yukon River Panel meeting in Whitehorse this week.

'We’re hearing support for that continued conservation effort,' said Alaska biologist

Chinook salmon pool at the Whitehorse fish ladder in 2014. Severe restrictions on chinook fishing in 2014 and 2015 were an effort to try and give the population a chance to recover. (CBC)

Alaskan fisheries managers say restrictions on chinook salmon fishing on the lower Yukon River should continue until stocks have recovered.

"What we've been hearing from Alaskans is, they want to stay conservative," said Stephanie Schmidt, the Yukon River fisheries management biologist for Alaska's department of fish and game. 

"They don't want to go out there too fast and too soon. They want to see this run continue to rebuild itself," she said.

Schmidt is in Whitehorse this week to take part in the Yukon River Panel's annual meeting. The panel advises fisheries authorities in Yukon and Alaska on how to manage salmon stocks in the Yukon River basin.

Chinook, or king, salmon runs in the Yukon River have dwindled in recent years. In the 1990s, the chinook run averaged more than 300,000 fish. Since 2008, fewer than half that number have returned to the Yukon River. 

Biggest return in years

This year again saw an overall run that was below average, but severe fishing restrictions in Alaska allowed more than 83,000 fish to make it to their spawning grounds in Canada. That's the biggest return in the last decade, and almost double the number mandated in a Canada-U.S. salmon treaty.

"I think that overall, people are starting to feel a little bit better about the chinook salmon run," Schmidt said.

She admits there are still a lot of questions about why the numbers are down. She said researchers are trying to figure it out, but it's not easy because chinooks spend part of their life in the ocean, and part of their life in the river.

"Trying to understand all the different environmental factors and complexities of an organism that has that kind of life history is quite difficult," Schmidt said.

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