AK & Canada Suspend Fishing of Yukon River Chinook Salmon for 7 Years

New target of 71,000 Chinook reaching Canadian spawning grounds for next 7 years includes reducing bycatch in pollock fishery.

by | April 5, 2024

Agreement includes reducing bycatch associated with the AK pollock fishery “to the extent practicable.”

By  Julien Gignac/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, April 5, 2024

In a bid to help the recovery of the Yukon River chinook salmon run, the federal government and the State of Alaska have agreed to implement a seven-year moratorium on fishing the species. SEE THE AGREEMENT HERE AND BELOW

The suspension, in effect for one full life cycle of a salmon, includes commercial fishing and recreational angling in the Yukon River mainstem and its Canadian tributaries. Representatives from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game signed the agreement on Monday.

The number of chinook salmon crossing the international border into Canadian waters has for years plummeted, with the last two years yielding some of the worst tallies recorded on the Yukon River. Last year, about 15,000 of the fish made it to Eagle, Alaska, near the Yukon border. It was even worse in 2022. A minimum of 42,500 chinook are supposed to get to their Canadian spawning waters to meet conservation goals.

Calling the run “depressed,” the new agreement states the salmon are under immense pressure from things like habitat degradation linked to resource and hydroelectric development, hatchery production, and climate change.

The agreement sets a new target of 71,000 Canadian-origin fish reaching their spawning grounds, for the next seven years.

Hitting that target includes reducing bycatch associated with, for instance, the offshore pollock fishery, restoring in-river habitats, and launching more research into diseases that could be contributing to low survival rates. The agreement also says the governments will seek more funding for restoring the run.

Steve Gotch, a senior director with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said the fishing suspension is a big one because as much as 95 per cent of the migrating chinook are caught by commercial fisheries on the river in both Alaska and Canada, or in the river’s estuary.

“There just aren’t enough fish to really accommodate any harvest and we need every one of those chinook salmon to reach the spawning ground to help rebuild this population into the future,” he said.

Doug Vincent-Lang, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the old way of doing things was wrong.

“It’s time to look beyond a single year’s management and look at a life cycle to try to recognize that it’s going to take longer than a single year to rebuild these stocks,” he said.

“It does come at a cost to the United States to rebuild these stocks, but, you know, we recognize on both sides of the border that having a healthy Canadian stock of chinook salmon is in both of our interests.”

Ceremonial use

There could be limited harvest for ceremonial purposes, the agreement states, but that depends on the health of the run in a given year. If more than 71,000 fish are projected to reach Canada, the governments “may consider providing limited subsistence fishing opportunity.”

To give chinook salmon a better chance of survival in the future, Yukon First Nations have for years abstained from their harvest.

Gotch said there was “considerable concern” from Yukon First Nations and Alaska Native tribes over the implications of the suspension on their cultures.

“We wanted to ensure that there was the ability to maintain transmission of cultural knowledge that involves Yukon River chinook salmon over the period of this seven-year agreement,” he said.

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.

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