FAIRBANKS - More salmon than expected are showing up in the Yukon River.
Department of Fish and Game biologists said they planned for another poor year, but with the run half completed, the return is much stronger than predicted. Area biologist Tracy Lingnau said fishermen have reported improvement in the number and quality of fish.
"They're real robust and we've heard that coming from the mouth all the way to the rapids," Lingnau said. "They're big and bright."
Lingnau said biologists developed a conservative management plan. Once the run is complete, Lingnau said, he expects an estimated 90,000 salmon will have been caught by subsistence and commercial fishermen.
While that's still well behind the average of more than 150,000 salmon during good years, the run is a pleasant surprise, he said.
"We've had a few years of poor returns since 1998 and we kind of expected the same trend to happen this year," he said.
Lingnau said biologists do not know what factors are behind the larger-than-expected return.
"Fish do weird things. One of the things they do is they hold over in the ocean, stay an extra year," he said. "But I don't know if that's happened."
Subsistence fishing for most of the upper Yukon opened in mid-June. Commercial fishing is to be fully under way next week. The strongest indicator of the strength of the run will be how many salmon make it into spawning locations, Lingnau said.
He said biologists are viewing the run with cautious optimism because it might represent a one-time spike.