Chinook salmon at the Whitehorse Fish Ladder in 2013. Salmon numbers were higher than expected in 2017, but still much lower than historically recorded. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)

Chinook salmon run stronger than pre-season predictions

More than 68,268 Chinook made it to their Yukon spawning grounds, exceeding the 50,000-fish goal

The number of Chinook salmon that made it to their spawning grounds in the Yukon this year exceeded expectations, with 68,268 fish successfully making the journey via the Yukon River from the Bering Sea.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada fishery manager Mary-Ellen Jarvis presented the number at a Yukon River Panel meeting in Whitehorse Dec. 12. The 12-person panel, made up of six Canadians and six Americans, makes management decisions on Canadian-origin salmon and meets twice a year to share data and strategies.

An estimated 70,000 to 97,000 Chinook salmon had been projected to cross the border into Canada from Alaska this year, with the spawning escapement goal set for 42,500 to 55,000 fish.

In total, 263,000 Chinook salmon were recorded entering the Yukon River by the Pilot sonar station in Alaska, with 73,268 recorded at the Eagle station near the Canada-U.S. border. Of those, 71,768 fish made it across the border with the figure taking into account that the U.S. reported that it harvested 1,500 fish. That number allowed for Yukon First Nations to fish a full subsistence harvest, Jarvis said, but the majority chose to continue to “fish conservatively,” using smaller mesh gillnets and releasing healthy females.

Although the numbers that materialized were higher than predicted, they’re still a far cry from the historical runs of 150,000 fish, Jarvis said. The Canadian harvest of 3,500 fish is also less than half of traditional harvests of 8,000 to 10,000 fish.

“Chinook has not been what it was in former years,” Jarvis said.

The numbers from the Porcupine River were “not as cheery,” she added.

On the Porcupine, which doesn’t have a harvest-sharing agreement, the number of Chinook that passed through was the lowest in the four years that tracking has been taking place, with 1,132 fish counted by the Old Crow sonar station. Of those, 1,058 made it to their spawning grounds, with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation harvesting 131 fish.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada biologist Vesta Mather said there wasn’t enough historic data to say if the sudden drop in Chinook on the Porcupine is an indication of a trend. Exceptional river conditions may have played a role, Mather said, with low water levels and periods in late June and early July where the water temperature hit 22 C. The lethal temperature for Chinook salmon is 24 C.

Elsewhere, Chinook salmon numbers sat around average, Mather said, with sonar on the Big Salmon River counting 5,672 fish and 1,226 fish counted at the Whitehorse Rapids. On the Pelly, the sonar counted a passage of 8,543 fish, but as 2017 was only the second year of monitoring, Mather said there isn’t enough data to determine a trend yet.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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