No salmon next year either, but don’t blame Alaska

Yukon and Alaska officials know next year’s salmon returns are going to be abyssmal, but they’re not blaming the US state.

Yukon and Alaska officials know next year’s salmon returns are going to be abyssmal, but they’re not blaming the US state.

It may simply be that Canadian salmon are weak.

The Yukon River Joint Technical Committee met to discuss salmon for the first time since 2008’s record-breakingly dismal salmon season.

“We don’t expect next year to be any better,” said Frank Quinn, area director of the department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The committee, which is made up of delegates from Alaska and the Yukon, recently set out measures to manage the 2009 salmon run.

Members know they won’t have many fish to work with.

And unfortunately, the committee is usually correct.

Last November, members projected a poor salmon count that ended up being “bang on” with actual levels, said Quinn.

Unprecedented measures were taken on both sides of the border, but to no avail.

In Alaska, “windows” of fishing opportunity were reduced by 50 per cent — from 36 to 18 hours.

Mesh sizes were cut down to a maximum of 15.24 centimeters to allow larger females the ability to evade capture.

And fishing was also specifically timed to allow “Canadian” fish safe passage to the border.

In Canada, only the First Nation subsistence harvest was permitted, and it operated at drastically reduced levels.

“It wasn’t an imposed restriction — we explained the situation and each of the First Nations came up with a management plan for their traditional territory,” said Quinn.

By season’s end, the entire territory had caught less than 3,000 fish.

“To point the finger and say, ‘They’re getting fish in Alaska for harvest and we’re not getting any here, so they’re obviously overfishing’ — I don’t think that’s a direct correlation,” said Quinn.

Looking solely at harvest numbers can be misleading, as it fails to account for Alaska-bound salmon stocks, said Quinn.

Fish with Yukon origins have shown the largest population declines, according to genetic data obtained by Canadian officials — and there are many more factors at play besides overfishing.

“What are the changes in predation that have happened? What about changes in food that’s available? Other species moving into rearing areas traditionally used by Chinook?” said Quinn.

Contact Tristin Hopper at tristinh@yukon-news.com

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