Alaska’s pain, Yukon’s gain

It's not that there's more chinook salmon than usual, it's just that Alaska isn't catching as many.

It’s not that there’s more chinook salmon than usual, it’s just that Alaska isn’t catching as many.

So, while Yukon fishers are preparing for the best salmon harvest in more than two years, Alaskan fishers are reeling from the state’s worst-ever salmon harvest, brought about mainly by an unprecedented slate of fishing regulations.

For 2009, Alaska closed its commercial fishery and slapped subsistence fishers with a 50 per cent reduction in fishing windows.

“Restrictions did allow for a lot more fish to go upriver,” said Craig Fleener, director of subsistence fishing for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Sensors at Eagle, Alaska, have already confirmed that 55,000 Chinook have crossed the Canadian border, about 10,000 more than the minimum goal.

It’s the first time in three years that Alaska has met its obligations to the Yukon River Salmon Agreement.

By contrast, last year at this time, only 19,000 salmon had been detected passing Eagle.

Thanks to the surplus, Yukon First Nations can now fish without restriction.

And, starting at noon yesterday and running until midnight tonight, sport, domestic and commercial fisheries will be open.

But on the whole, salmon returns are actually down.

“I don’t think the run is particularly strong overall; in fact, I think it’s below average,” said Sandy Johnston, lead scientist for the Yukon office of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“The main reason you’re seeing numbers the way they are is (Alaska’s) diligence in trying to get fish through,” he said.

That diligence has come at a “great expense” to people along Alaska’s lower Yukon River, said a resident of Marshall, Alaska in the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer.

In the isolated river village of Galena (population 650), only about 30 per cent of families caught 75 per cent of their subsistence needs, reported the Newsminer.

The rest caught 50 per cent or lower.

Facing widespread political angst from villagers, it’s unlikely Alaska regulators will impose a similar salmon fishing crack-down in 2010.

Part of the problem is that Alaska, unlike the Yukon, doesn’t have the benefit of being able to pinpoint the exact size of its salmon run.

The Yukon River is narrow where it enters Canada, allowing fishery officials a pretty accurate forecast of incoming fish.

It would be almost impossible for Alaskans to obtain similar data from the massive Yukon River Delta.

“To try and estimate numbers coming in, they’re going to have to err on the side of caution,” said Johnston.

Fishing a declining salmon population at the slightest indication of a surplus seems to be a counterintuitive way to maintain chinook stocks for the long term.

It’s not quite that clear cut, said Fleener.

“Some (scientists) believe that you should let more salmon go to the spawning grounds and hope for more, and some believe that allowing too many salmon to get to the spawning grounds is just a waste,” he said.

“It’s more of a philosophical question.”

Catching a male fish, for instance, likely wouldn’t affect returns; there’s more than enough salmon sperm to go around.

California’s Sacramento River commercial chinook salmon fishery has also been closed since 2007.

But if Sacramento’s commercial fishery was suddenly thrown open, it wouldn’t be surprising if few fishing boats hit the water, said Harry Morse, public information officer for the California Department of Fish and Game.

Many have already retooled to catch rockfish, herring, crab and flatfish.

“One of the boats I personally know of is now doing harbour tours in San Francisco,” said Morse.

“It’s not so much a question of boats, it’s a question of individuals who have switched to some other form of income,” he said.

Faced with such short notice, Yukon commercial fishers likely won’t be able to take many salmon.

“A lot of the fish caught by commercial fishermen may not be sold; it may go to their own personal use,” said Johnston.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

In a Feb. 17 statement, the City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology used for emergency response. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Three words could make all the difference in an emergency

City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology

Jesse Whelen, Blood Ties Four Directions harm reduction councillor, demonstrates how the organization tests for fentanyl in drugs in Whitehorse on May 12, 2020. The Yukon Coroner’s Service has confirmed three drug overdose deaths and one probable overdose death since mid-January. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three overdose deaths caused by “varying levels of cocaine and fentanyl,” coroner says

Heather Jones says overdoses continue to take lives at an “alarming rate”

Wyatt's World for Feb. 24, 2021.
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 24, 2021.

Approximately 30 Yukoners protest for justice outside the Whitehorse courthouse on Feb. 22, while a preliminary assault hearing takes place inside. The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, based in Watson Lake, put out a call to action over the weekend. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Courthouse rally denounces violence against Indigenous women

The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society put out a call to action

Then Old Crow MLA Darius Elias speak’s in the community centre in Old Crow in 2016. Elias died in Whitehorse on Feb. 17. (Maura Forrest/Yukon News file)
Condolences shared for former Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Darius Elias

Elias is remembered as a proud parent, hockey fan and politican

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

The Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce have signed a letter of understanding under the territory’s new procurement policy. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
First Nation business registry planned under new procurement system

Letter of understanding signals plans to develop registry, boost procurement opportunities

US Consul General Brent Hardt during a wreath-laying ceremony at Peace Arch State Park in September 2020. Hardt said the two federal governments have been working closely on the issue of appropriate border measures during the pandemic. (John Kageorge photo)
New U.S. consul general says countries working closely on COVID-19 border

“I mean, the goal, obviously, is for both countries to get ahead of this pandemic.”

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Start of spring sitting announced

The Yukon legislature is set to resume for the spring sitting on… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

(Submitted)
History Hunter: Kwanlin Dün — a book of history, hardship and hope

Dǎ Kwǎndur Ghày Ghàkwadîndur: Our Story in Our Words is published by… Continue reading

(File photo)
RCMP arrest Saskatchewan murder suspect

Yukon RCMP have arrested a man suspected of attempted murder from outside… Continue reading

Most Read