Yukon kings appear behind schedule

Posted: Monday, June 07, 2010

FAIRBANKS - Yukon River king salmon are running behind schedule this spring, according to state biologists who track the big fish.

Kings should begin showing up in the river any day now. But as of Friday, biologists had not caught any kings or summer chums in their test nets at the mouth of the river.

Biologist Steve Hayes, who oversees the Yukon River king fishery for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the fish are late. Summer may have arrived early in interior Alaska, but that is not the case in western areas of the state, he said.

"It was 30-something (degrees) when I woke up this morning. I'm hearing reports of a lot of ice still on the (Bering Sea) coast," he said Thursday from the village of Emmonak near the mouth of the river. "The (Yukon River) ice was four or five days later than usual going out."

Late or low king runs have been occurring in other areas of the state, including the Kenai and Copper rivers.

The Yukon River king salmon run, the state's largest subsistence fishery, has been plagued with poor runs for much of the past decade, requiring restrictions on subsistence fishing and the elimination of a once-profitable commercial fishery in the lower river.

Subsistence fishing time has also been cut the last two years, making it impossible for many fishermen to catch enough fish to feed their families.

Starting Monday, subsistence fishermen in the lower river will be allowed to fish for two 36-hour periods per week. Subsistence fishing previously was open seven days per week, 24 hours per day.

In January, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke declared the 2008 and 2009 Yukon River commercial king salmon fisheries a disaster. Congress last month agreed to provide $5 million in relief funds for commercial fishermen on the lower river.

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