Yukon River Chinook salmon and the people who depend on them are in desperate need of help. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has failed to meet Chinook escapement goals for the Yukon River several times in the last 14 years. Those goals are set by international treaty with Canada and can’t be changed. ADF&G’s solution has been to reduce fishing time and even shut down Chinook salmon fisheries. This has caused hardship for the people along the Yukon who depend on these fish for subsistence and badly needed income.
The 2014 return is expected to be as poor or even worse than those of 2012 and 2013.
ADF&G biologists do not know why the returns are so poor. They are blaming high seas bycatch, marine and freshwater environmental factors and ocean productivity. They have even suggested that we may be observing the early stages of a long-term trend. Bottom line: They don’t know.
Fairbanks has a new sportfish hatchery sitting on the banks of the Chena River, but it will be half-empty for the foreseeable future. This hatchery is in the right place at the right time to help get more Chinook salmon into the Yukon river. This hatchery can help the Yukon Chinook salmon population numbers, but it needs to be fully turned on.
I would hope the ADF&G will not fight tooth and nail to prevent this. Rather, we the public hope they will come on board and support this idea.
Southeast Alaska salmon hatcheries provide tremendous economic benefits to the commercial salmon industry. They are greatly appreciated and supported because they provide more fish for subsistence, commercial and sport fisheries.
The new Anchorage sportfish hatchery is releasing Chinook and coho salmon into Ship Creek, which is now the biggest sport fishery in the state. This has been a recreational and financial success for downtown Anchorage. These fish even contribute to commercial catches in Cook Inlet. Hatcheries are an asset. Why can’t the same be done with the Fairbanks fish hatchery to support Chinook salmon along the Yukon, Tanana, Chena and Salcha rivers?
The Fairbanks hatchery needs funding to start and maintain Chinook production for the Yukon. It makes sense for the money to come from the Sustainable Salmon Fund. U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens was able to reallocate money from this fund to help get the new sportfish hatchery started in Fairbanks and Anchorage. This is a justifiable use because the Yukon Chinook salmon returns are failing and the people in the villages are desperate. This will not be a total cure, but it will help a lot. Now is the time!
• Bill Larry is a member of Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee.