Alaskans wonder where the king salmon have gone
Fishery managers in Alaska predict that this year's Yukon River king salmon run will be worse than last year, which was the worst showing in 30 years, a scary proposition for Alaskans who depend on drying, salting and putting away in the freezer the fish to feed their families through winter.
The Associated Press
ANCHORAGE — Alaskans again this summer are wondering: Where are the king salmon?
Some of Alaska's largest and best rivers are closed to king fishing because state and federal fisheries managers have determined that the largest of the salmon species, also called Chinook, aren't showing up in enough numbers to ensure sustainable future runs.
In western Alaska, people living in dozens of villages along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers are turning to less-desirable salmon species — with lower oil and fat content — to fill their freezers for winter in what one official described as a summer of "food insecurity."
"It is pretty scary," said Timothy Andrew, director of natural resources with the Association of Village Council Presidents, in Bethel. "Chinook salmon is probably the biggest species that people depend on for drying, salting and putting away in the freezer to feed the family throughout the winter."
Fishery managers predict that this year's Yukon River king salmon run will be worse than last year's, and that was the worst showing for Chinook in 30 years.
Commercial fishermen on the Yukon and Kuskokwim are turning to less desirable but more plentiful species of salmon that sell for less than $1 a pound. King salmon sells for more than $5 a pound. With gas at $6.70 a gallon in Bethel, many fishing boats are sitting idle, he said.
People living in the region's 56 villages are devastated, Andrew said. "It is an incredibly stressful time."
In mid-July, the Kenai River — considered by many to be Alaska's premier river for salmon fishing — is normally crowded and chaotic with fishing guides steering their boats to give their clients the best opportunity to catch a trophy king.
But a ban on king fishing on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers went into effect Thursday.
Robert Begich, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's area management biologist, said the Kenai king run looks to be the lowest on record going back to the 1980s. While the continued downward trend in kings isn't clear, Begich suspects a combination of factors, with researchers looking more closely at changes in the ocean environment. Kings usually spend several years in the ocean before returning to rivers to spawn.