Chinook Salmon's Return Causes Disappointmentby Natalia Real
Fish Info & Services, June 27, 2011
Commercial fishing is suffering due to closures and other conservation measures implemented to cope with poor chinook salmon returns to several major Alaska rivers.
The king salmon runs on both the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers were projected to be poor to below average pre-season. The Yukon River chinook salmon outlook was poor to below average, with the run size projected to be from 109,000 to 146,000 compared to the average total of 200,000 fish since 1997.
The chinook salmon outlook for the Kuskokwim River was set for a run below the average total of 260,000 fish. Unless the run is exceptionally late, early indications are that it may be the worst run ever recorded.
Test fisheries are now seeing chinook at approximately 25 per cent of the numbers seen during this period in 2010, which was the worst return on record at the time, Anchorage Daily News reports.
Experts believe the problem stems from ocean conditions rather than freshwater issues and the problem has been building for at least five years, said biologist Tom Vania, Cook Inlet regional coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG).
"Salmon populations are cyclic in nature," he said. "Right now, I have no reason to believe this is not just the bottom end of a cycle and that we won't come out of this cycle - you see that in all game populations."
"But there are a lot of changes going on in the ocean environment right now surrounding global warming. Our understanding of what that's going to do to anadromous species we probably won't know for a number of years," Vania added, The Associated Press reports.
Hatchery fish also are not returning to Alaska's rivers although biologists have determined that hatchery smolt made it to sea.
In anticipation of this event, federal and state managers with stakeholders have jointly developed conservative management strategies for Yukon and Kuskokwim River chinook salmon before the 2012 season.
Early indications say the chinook runs are arriving at the low end, and possibly below it, of the projected range for the Yukon, and well below the projection for the Kuskokwim. Therefore, state and federal subsistence openings have been substantially cut and recently closed on the Yukon River; the Kuskokwim has been closed to all directed subsistence salmon fishing.
Summer chum salmon on the Yukon are also returning later and in below average numbers, but the run appears to be growing and there is still potential for it to enlarge into an above average return.
Federal and state managers have restricted subsistence fishing to nets with a mesh size of 6 in maximum in an attempt to lower the incidental catch of chinooks by fishers catching chums.
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