Poor Alaska salmon run threatens treaty

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — The number of king salmon that reach the Canadian border might not satisfy a treaty agreement between Alaska and Canada despite massive cuts in subsistence fishing up and down the Yukon River in Alaska.

The state has failed for the past three years to meet obligations laid out in the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

Biologists are projecting the size of this year’s chinook run to be 120,000 to 130,000.

Biologist Steve Hayes said 50,000 to 55,000 of those fish will have to make it to Canada to meet Canadian escapement and harvest objectives.

“It’s too early to say whether or not we’re going to meet the Canadian escapement goal,” he said. “It’s going to be a while before we can tell how we did with the conservation measures we put in place.”

Alaska fish managers restricted fishing on the early part of this year’s run, which is believed to contain a large number of Canada-bound fish.

Subsistence fishing was closed for several days in the lower and middle parts of the river to protect fish headed for Canada, and similar closures will be implemented as the fish move up the river.

Subsistence fishing time also has been decreased in areas that have reopened.

“People are getting pretty anxious about what the rest of the season is going to be like for them,” said fisherman Richard Burnham of Kaltag.

This year’s run numbers are almost identical to last year, but early results from genetic analysis indicate a higher proportion of Canadian fish than last year, at least early in the run, according to Hayes.

“I would expect we protected more Canadian fish and put more Canadian fish across the border,” he said.

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