Yukon River coho, chum salmon runs among lowest on record

‘Devastating impacts’ on villages near the Yukon River
Yukon River coho, chum salmon runs among lowest on record
Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 7:30 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTUU) - Fall runs for chum and coho salmon are close to completion, but based on a fishery announcement by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, they’re projecting the run size to be some of the lowest on record.

The fall chum run is projected to be less than a quarter of the historical run size — 240,000 fish this year compared to about 1 million historically — making it the third lowest year on record, based on records from 1974 to 2021.

The fall coho salmon run is projected to be near 100,000 fish, compared to the historical run size of 234,000 — making it the second lowest year on record between 1995 to 2021.

The first big dip the salmon population saw was in 2020. By 2021, the fall chum and coho salmon were among the lowest on record, which experts say could be from warming waters of climate change or fish diseases, but researchers are not completely sure.

This year, they’re only doing slightly better.

“It improved a little bit, but still not enough to allow for subsistence fishing,” Bonnie Borba, a research biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said.

The Yukon River is home to about 50 villages that rely on salmon for subsistence.

“They live off the food from their hunting and gathering, and it’s a huge impact, not only for food security but for cultural practices,” Serena Fitka, executive director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, said.

Many are concerned about how devastating having no subsistence fishing for Alaskan villages could be. It has a major impact on the local economies as well, taking away the income of commercial fisheries.

“It’s depressing not being able to go out there onto the river and fish for yourself, fish for your family, teach your kids how to fish, and I think that’s how it feels for everyone on the Yukon,” Fitka said.

Now, with the subsistence harvest for salmon in the last three years being threatened, many question if it will continue for 2023.

“We might be looking at another disaster next year when people are not going to be able to harvest anything and that’s going to be very devastating,” Fitka said.