A salmon swims in the Whitehorse Fish Ladder in 2015. Numbers for chinook salmon in Alaska are up, but it’s too early in the season to see if Yukon’s salmon run will be as strong, say officials. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

Don’t get too excited about chinook salmon numbers yet, officials warn

‘I am cautiously optimistic, but again, emphasis on the caution’

Although the chinook salmon numbers coming out of Alaska look promising, officials on this side of the border are warning Yukoners not to get too excited yet.

As of July 17, the Pilot Station sonar site on the west coast of Alaska had logged nearly 259,000 chinook salmon entering the Yukon River from the Bering Sea since May, far more than the 140,000 to 194,000 forecasted in the preseason. But from there, the fish still have to make a roughly month-long journey before they reach the Eagle sonar site, near the Yukon border. And it’s the numbers from that station that inform management decisions in Canada.

“I am cautiously optimistic, but again, emphasis on the caution,” Fisheries and Oceans Canada fishery manager Mary Ellen Jarvis said July 18.

A lot can happen to the fish between Pilot Station and Eagle, Jarvis explained. For example, the U.S. has opened up its subsistence fishing schedule after seeing the larger-than-forecasted number of fish coming in, and Jarvis said the impact of that decision is “quite unpredictable” when it comes to how many chinook will make it across the border.

The first chinook salmon crossed into Canadian waters July 1. As of July 17, it’s been joined by more than 26,000 of its compatriots, which is estimated to be anywhere from 21 to 36 per cent of the run, according to Alaskan officials. They estimate Pilot Station has seen about 99 per cent of the run already. Jarvis said some fish may have made it as far as Lake Laberge by now, but she emphasized that it was still too early in the season to tell the strength of this year’s run in the Yukon or if it will meet the escapement goal of 42,500-55,000 fish. But even if the upper end of the goal is met, it’d still be roughly a third of the historic average of 150,000.

“We’re watching it very carefully and obviously taking a precautionary approach until such a time that we have reasonable assurance that the species is returning in a more healthy manner,” Jarvis said, adding the that compared to historical averages, the run has been in a “somewhat depressed state” for the past decade or so.“The next week is going to be critical in terms of us being able to make any kind of forecast and determining the run into Canada.”

Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee (YSSC) executive director Jesse Trerice was also weary of being too optimistic about the Pilot Station numbers.

“The YSSC is concerned that the positive news coming out of Alaska is being misinterpreted by some Canadians and Yukoners and that there is an expectation that we will see a similar outcome in the Yukon,” Trerice wrote in an email. “There have been tremendous gains made but we are not out of the woods yet.”

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

This story has been edited to remove unrelated information about salmon bag limits in Skagway.

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