FAIRBANKS — Yukon River king salmon fishermen hoping for a change from last year’s dismal returns are getting bad news.
State and federal biologists say the 2012 king salmon run may be worse.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had already announced that subsistence fishing will not be allowed for the first wave of fish, expected to hit the river later this week,
Biologists say there’s not likely to be commercial fishing for king salmon for the third straight year.
“We’re expecting it to be as bad or worse than 2011,” said Steve Hayes, Yukon area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The 2011 king salmon run was one of the worst in 30 years and was estimated at 143,000 fish. Managers predict a run of 109,000 to 146,000 king salmon this year.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports at least 100,000 fish must reach their spawning grounds for breeding, including 50,000 required by the Pacific Salmon Treaty that must cross into Canada.
That does not leave many for subsistence fishermen, who catch about 50,000 kings per year to eat. They also may be prevented from their usual catch.
“If the run comes in at 100,000 or lower, there is a good chance that there could be very severe restrictions,” Hayes said.
King salmon typically arrive in three or four “pulses” from the Bering Sea. Fish in the first pulse tend to be bound for Canada. By restricting subsistence fishing during the first pulse, it assures that some of the fish reach Canada.
Test fisheries using nets at the mouth of the river are scheduled for Monday. The department Friday will start counting fish 120 miles upriver at Pilot Station with sonar.
“As we get an in-season assessment we’ll have to decide if the run is worse or better (than projected) and does it warrant more restrictions,” Hayes said.