Jeremy Main, 1, reaches towards one of three Chinook Salmon at the Whitehorse fish ladder on Aug. 12, 2019. The 2020 run of Chinook salmon on the Yukon River is forecasted to be slightly smaller than last year’s, according to a report from the Yukon River Panel. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Forecast for 2020 Yukon River Chinook run slightly smaller than last year’s

COVID-19 has created some uncertainty on whether some in-season assessment projects will happen

The 2020 run of Chinook salmon on the Yukon River is forecasted to be slightly smaller than last year’s, according to a report from the Yukon River Panel.

Between 59,000 and 90,000 Canadian-orgin Chinook are expected to make the journey from the Bering Sea and up the Yukon River.

That’s compared to the 69,000 to 99,000 forecasted last year.

Preliminary estimates have pegged the actual run at 72,620 fish, with only 42,052 making it to their spawning grounds.

That was below even the lower end of the interim management escapement goals, which remains the same this season at between 42,500 to 55,000 fish.

In an interview April 30, Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee executive director Elizabeth MacDonald said the 2020 forecast “isn’t too concerning” yet due to the large confidence interval around such early predictions.

Last year, she noted, far more fish than forecasted actually entered the mouth of the river, although a number of factors, including record-breaking warm water temperatures and overfishing on the Alaskan side led to a much smaller number of fish actually making it into Canadian waters.

MacDonald said no formal management plans have been put forward yet; it’s still too early.

However, like many aspects of life, the COVID-19 pandemic has also changed the salmon-management world.

“I think the COVID-19 is actually having more of an impact on what’s going to happen than the pre-season forecast,” MacDonald said of management planning.

The Yukon River Panel didn’t hold its usual pre-season meeting this year, which typically brings together representatives from both sides of the Alaska-Yukon border for a few days’ worth of presentations and discussions before the salmon runs begin.

The pandemic has also introduced some uncertainty on whether all the usual in-season assessment projects, many of which are based in or near small, remote communities, will actually happen this year, particularly on the Alaskan side.

Scientists and technicians travel into these communities to install and monitor the sonar systems that count fish during the season, MacDonald explained, and this year, some communities are concerned they could bring the coronavirus with them. While researchers have permission to continue with monitoring activities in Eagle, an Alaskan town near the Canadian border that serves as a key point for collecting data on how many fish will enter Canada, MacDonald said it’s not certain yet whether there’ll be a sonar station at Pilot this year.

The Pilot sonar is located near the mouth of the Yukon River and gives the first indication of how large a run is, and how fast it’s coming in. The numbers recorded at Pilot are used by Alaskan officials to make in-season management decisions — when to open fishing, how many fish can be taken — that ultimately impact how many fish make it into the Yukon and to spawning grounds.

On the Canadian side, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the federal department that handles Chinook management, is considered an essential service, so in-season assessment projects are expected to mostly continue as usual (it’s uncertain at this point whether the Whitehorse fish ladder will be open to the public).

MacDonald said officials are expecting larger subsistence harvests to happen in both Alaska and the Yukon this year, due to COVID-19 and the concerns around food security it’s raised, particularly in remote communities supply planes may no longer be flying to.

At this point, though, it’s too early to say how or when the harvests will take place.

“So this year, it’s unknown what we’ll see but what I’ve been hearing on both sides of the border is that they’re going to kind of enter it the same as they did last year, being precautious … and then waiting to see what the in-season numbers will be,” MacDonald said.

Contact Jackie Hong at


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

Just Posted

COMMENTARY: Know your rights: Yukon’s anti-discrimination laws in housing

Luke FraughtSpecial to the News For three reasons, now is an extremely… Continue reading

Man convicted of sexually abusing 13 girls given 1.5 years’ credit on sentence after appeal

Man was given 1,299 days’ credit for time in jail pre-sentencing when he should have received 1,850

Yukon RCMP breach agreement with Queer Yukon by attending Pride flag raising in uniform

High-ranking Yukon RCMP officers broke an agreement with Queer Yukon last month… Continue reading

Tr’ondek Hwech’in citizens living outside traditional territory didn’t receive mail-in ballots in time for byelection

Despite tricky timelines, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in says the Elections Act was followed

Dust devil rips apart pop-up fruit stand in Haines Junction

Owner George Redies says he’s thankful for the help and support he’s received from Yukoners

Today’s mailbox: long-term care oversight

Letters to the editor published Aug. 12

Group of B.C. First Nations announce mutual support of travel, hunting restrictions

Group of B.C. First Nations announce mutual support of travel, hunting restrictions… Continue reading

Whitehorse airport baggage handling to be upgraded

Baggage handling at the Whitehorse airport is getting an upgrade next year.… Continue reading

Whitehorse driver pleads not guilty in 2019 pedestrian death

A Whitehorse driver charged with failing to yield for a pedestrian at… Continue reading

Yukon Filmmakers Fund awards announced

Four local filmmakers will receive $20,000 as they continue work on their… Continue reading

UPDATED: Yukon privacy commissioner releases information on COVID Alert app

The office of the IPC has said it has no stance on whether Yukoners should download the app

Changes to federal infrastructure funds allow for COVID-19 flexibility

Announcement allows for rapid COVID-19 projects and expands energy programs to Whitehorse

City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read