More bad news for Yukon chinook

The chinook salmon count on the Yukon River is low again this year. Fewer than 40,000 fish are expected to make it to Canadian portions of the Yukon River this year.

The chinook salmon count on the Yukon River is low again this year.

Fewer than 40,000 fish are expected to make it to Canadian portions of the Yukon River this year.

“There’s some uncertainty still there,” said Jeff Grout, resource manager with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “We’ve got about half of the run through at this point. It looks like it’s about a week and a half late or so.”

That’s less than the 42,500 chinook that the United States is obligated under treaty to allow passage into Canada.

Last year saw a dismal run, with an estimated 34,656 fish making it to the border.

The figure 42,500 is the escapement goal, meaning the number of fish that cross the border and escape harvest in Canadian waters.

So in fact, the Americans are obligated to ensure that more chinook get to the border than that, in order to allow for an aboriginal harvest.

A full First Nation harvest on this side of the border is estimated at 8,000 fish.

Last year First Nations voluntarily held back to allow more chinook to get to their spawning streams.

Their harvest for 2012 is estimated at 2,000 fish.

In years where between 30,000 and 51,000 chinook are expected to make it through the border, all harvesting is shut down except for the aboriginal harvest.

Catch and release is permitted except, on occasion, in areas where allowing the activity could lead to potential conflicts with First Nations harvesters.

If the numbers were to fall below 30,000, the aboriginal fishery could be shut down altogether, but this has never happened.

On the U.S. side of the border, the secretary of commerce declared the 2012 Yukon chinook run to be an emergency.

There, management actions have been taken to prevent subsistence harvesting on the early pulses of fish entering the river, since most of those salmon are headed for Canadian waters.

Also, measures have been taken to limit the chinook bycatch in fisheries targeting chum salmon.

This year, pre-season estimates predicted that between 49,000 and 71,000 chinook would make it into Canada.

Models have been over predicting salmon returns since at least 2007, and as a result predictions have been adjusted downward.

But apparently not far enough.

This year, again, the actual numbers are expected to fall below the low range of the adjusted pre-season estimates.

The Yukon River Panel is responsible for keeping track of salmon in the river and developing management goals and programs.

The international group hosts weekly teleconferences through the summer months to co-ordinate information between fisheries managers and harvesters.

The calls take place at 2 p.m. on Tuesdays from June into September.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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