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Experts expect healthy chum salmon run in Yukon this year

Posted: Tuesday, August 22, 2006

FAIRBANKS - The fall run of Yukon River chum salmon should satisfy subsistence smokehouses and commercial fishermen this year, but biologists said the run has not bounced back from a slide in the late 1990s.

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Biologists expect about 1 million chum salmon to enter the silty river this season, based on numbers from a sonar counter about 120 miles upstream from the mouth.

"We're in good shape," said Fairbanks commercial fisheries biologist Fred Bue with the Department of Fish and Game, who is monitoring the run from Emmonak near the mouth of the Yukon. "The run looks good and the quality looks good."

Fisheries managers do not expect the count to surpass last season's near-record run of 2 million chums. An average run is about 800,000, Bue said.

A slump of less than 300,000 fish in the late 1990s led to chum restrictions on both commercial and subsistence fishermen. The low runs prompted then-Gov. Tony Knowles to declare it a disaster.

While not as prized as the Yukon's king salmon run or as prolific as the summer chum run, the fall chum run provides subsistence users along the Yukon and Tanana rivers with food for sled dogs and serves as a backup food supply in the case of an inadequate king salmon harvest.

This year, for example, residents in the lower Yukon had some trouble drying kings from the run in June because of heavy rains.

"This was such a rainy summer a lot of fish they put up earlier aren't great quality," Bue said. "With these fall chum and coho they can still put up some premium fish."

The fall chum run began on July 16 and biologists have detected three "pulses" that have passed the sonar counter. The first batch of about 85,000 salmon is near the Canadian border. A second group estimated to be around Tanana in the middle Yukon, was estimated at 268,000 salmon. A third pulse of about 150,000 hit the sonar this week.

Biologists aren't sure yet how many fall chums will turn up the Tanana River, Bue said.



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