FAIRBANKS - The fall chum salmon run on the Yukon River could be one of the worst ever - so bad that even subsistence fishing has been cut back even further and even could be stopped altogether, according to state fisheries officials.
This year's run is poorer even than that of 1998, the first of three disastrous salmon runs on the Yukon and Tanana rivers.
``It's not looking good,'' area management biologist Bonnie Borba said from Emmonak.
``Right now the (management) plan says we can be closed, but this is a subsistence fishery and we want to make sure the numbers are right and everybody is seeing the same thing.''
On Friday the state Department of Fish and Game cut the subsistence fishing time on the Yukon and Tanana rivers from two 24-hour periods a week to one 24-hour period.
In a normal year subsistence fishermen can be on the rivers four or five days a week, but last month state cut that fishing time back to two days because of the poor king and summer chum runs.
``We understand they need to fish, but escapement is important for the future,'' Borba said.
Subsistence is the top priority when it comes to managing the state's fish and game stocks. Commercial, personal use and sport fishing were closed in July in response to the poor king and summer chum runs.
The state won't make any further restrictions to the subsistence fishing schedule until biologists analyze several upriver escapement projects, Borba said.
Subsistence users normally catch between 100,000 and 150,000 fall chums to feed their families and the dog teams they use for trapping, transportation, racing and hauling firewood and water.
The Yukon River Fall Chum Salmon Management Plan has a provision that drops the minimum escapement goal from 400,000 to 350,000 fish during years with poor runs.
But at this point, biologists are projecting a run of only 269,000 fall chums. That compares with an average run of 700,000 fish.
The poor fall chum run will hit villagers on the upper Yukon and Tanana rivers hardest. About 85 percent of the fall chum harvest comes from the upper Yukon and Tanana rivers.
In Tanana, at the confluence of the Yukon and Tanana rivers, fishermen have been catching plenty of fish when they have been allowed to fish, said fisherman Bill Fliris.
``It's hard to convince people it's a bad run when they see so many fish here,'' he said. ``It's because there's no fishing going on in the lower river.''