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Fish managers optimistic about Yukon River chinook harvest

Posted: Thursday, June 20, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The first six-hour king salmon commercial harvest on the Yukon River was scheduled to begin Wednesday night and state fisheries managers say they're optimistic about the harvest.

The opening was set for the lower river.

Tom Vania, Department of Fish and Game Department biologist in Emmonak, said this week that the run so far appeared to be better than it was last year.

Two years ago the governor declared a salmon fishing disaster on the Yukon after one of the worst runs since the 1930s.

Last year, after providing for escapement, the department allowed a subsistence harvest but did not allow a commercial fishing season. Subsistence fishermen faced gear restrictions and shorter openings.

''We figured if the run was going to be like 2000, then it wouldn't be able to support commercial or an average subsistence harvest either,'' Vania said. ''Then as it turned out, the run came in better than expected.''

Biologists decided this year that if the run came in the same way, they would allow a commercial harvest of about 20,000 fish.

''That's not a lot,'' Vania said. ''It's difficult to identify a small surplus like that, so to be conservative we would fish near the midpoint of the run.''

Department officials said they will decide on commercial harvests elsewhere one district at a time.

Salmon populations are cyclic, Vania said, but sometimes those cycles last for years.

Scientists do not really understand what has been affecting the return of western Alaska salmon stocks since 1998, Vania said.

The federal government is funding a series of studies to find out.



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