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Yukon River chinook run below average again this year, Alaska officials say

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says the number of Yukon River chinook salmon is significantly below average so far this year.

Sonar station at Eagle, Alaska has seen just under 14,000 chinook, less than half the historical average

Chinook salmon at the Whitehorse fish ladder last August. Yukon River chinook runs have been in general decline in recent decades. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says the number of Yukon River chinook salmon is significantly below average so far this year.

The sonar station at Eagle, Alaska has seen just under 14,000 chinook make it upstream. The historical average is 28,800 fish crossing the U.S./Canada border.

"The projections as of today are really disheartening, based on the passage we've seen on the sonar so far," said Holly Carroll, area manager of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage. 

"We can't really speculate on how well we did until we complete the season. But at this point, it's enough to say that these below-average counts were unexpected, at the Eagle sonar."

'The projections as of today are really disheartening,' said Holly Carroll, area manager of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Yukon River chinook runs have been in general decline in recent decades. The last few years have seen total annual runs averaging about 73,000 fish, compared to runs averaging around 158,000 in the 1990s.

So far this year, about 160,000 chinook salmon have made their way into the mouth of the Yukon River from the Bering Sea.

Carroll says one of the things officials have noticed this year at the Pilot Station sonar site near the mouth of the Yukon River in Alaska was the size of the five- to six-year-old salmon. They seem to be smaller than usual, she said.

"The difference in length this year was very noticeable. It was at the extreme end of the average length we have seen. So that's indicating something is going on in the ocean for these salmon."

The sonar station at Eagle, Alaska. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Carroll says they check the age, sex and length of the spawning fish, but do not weigh them.

She says this year Alaska may not meet the Canadian escapement objectives or the harvest objectives. She says it could be devastating for everyone, especially fishermen on both sides of the border.

She's also worried that smaller fish will mean subsistence harvesters downstream in Alaska will take more in order to meet their needs.

On Monday, Alaska officials closed all fishing from Rampart, Alaska, to the U.S./Canada border until further notice.

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