In a run of bad years for Yukon chinook, this coming season could end up being the worst.
Alaskan officials have announced that all chinook salmon fishing will be closed on the Yukon River this summer.
“At this time now, we’re basically approaching it as if there’s not going to be any opportunity for chinook harvest whatsoever for both commercial and subsistence this year,” said Jeffrey Estensen with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in an interview Tuesday.
This is the most restrictive measure ever taken. Some fishing will be allowed to target other species, under conditions designed to allow chinook to pass.
Many Alaskan communities depend on the Yukon chinook run for subsistence. In recent years, some have protested restrictions by fishing illegally.
But as the chinook runs continue to decline, more groups and communities are joining the call to shut down the river.
At a meeting of the Yukon River Panel in Whitehorse in December many spoke to the need for even tighter restrictions on harvest.
This year, between 31,000 and 61,000 Canadian-origin chinook are expected to enter the mouth of the Yukon River, said Steve Gotch, a director with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
The department is expecting the numbers to fall on the low end that range, he said.
Last year the total run size of Canadian-origin chinook was an estimated 37,915 fish, he said.
Of those, only an estimated 28,669 escaped fishing nets along the way and made it to spawning grounds, he said.
Under federal treaty, Alaska must allow 42,500 fish to pass into Canadian waters, plus enough to allow for First Nations to share in the harvest. That goal has not been met in five of the last seven years.
How the run is managed on this side of the border this year will depend on how many fish actually show up, said Gotch.
In the past, the department has worked with First Nations to implement voluntary restrictions on the aboriginal fishery.
If fewer than 30,000 chinook make it to the border, the department could consider shutting down the First Nation fishery altogether. Such a closure has never happened.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada is currently consulting with First Nations and the Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee, said Gotch. The committee will bring recommendations to the department in late May or early June, he said.
In the legislature Tuesday, the Opposition NDP called on the Yukon government to do more to protect the chinook run.
“When will this government realize that it cannot stand idly by while other governments and branches oversee the unprecedented decline of the Yukon River chinook salmon stocks?” asked MLA Jim Tredger.
Environment Minister Currie Dixon noted that the premier has met with various groups about the issue and thanked Alaska for its leadership.
“We are pleased to see action being taken by Alaska. We are cautiously optimistic that this action will be fulfilled and that it will be enforced, regulated and inspected as appropriate.”
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at