Knowles considers emergency declaration on poor Yukon River salmon runs

Posted: Sunday, July 09, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- This year's salmon run on the lower Yukon River has been so poor Gov. Tony Knowles may declare it an emergency. That could mean asking the federal government for disaster aid.

''It looks like it may well be less than 1998, which was the lowest year on record for chinook, and an additional disaster for the summer chum run,'' Knowles said Friday in Washington, where he was attending an ocean study commission meeting. He plans to visit the Yukon next week to get a close look at the situation.

Both Knowles and the Department of Fish and Game said it's unlikely that any more commercial fishermen will be allowed on the lower Yukon this year.

Fish and Game officials in Emmonak said only 62,000 kings passed the counter at Pilot Station, about 50 miles upriver from the mouth of the Yukon, by Thursday. Last year, 180,000 kings were counted in the same period, according to area management biologist Tom Vania.

In the disaster year of 1998, 95,000 kings passed the counter by the same date, still well above this year's level.

At least 150,000 kings are needed to meet minimum subsistence needs, Vania said.

''There are a lot of concerns here on the Yukon,'' Vania said. ''This is a poor year for Chinook.''

The summer chum run also is below normal. Vania said 320,000 chums passed Pilot Station as of Thursday, compared with 767,000 in 1999 on the same date last year and 645,000 in 1998.

But Vania noted that the Pilot Station water levels are higher than usual, which could allow some fish to slip by uncounted. ''We consider these minimum numbers,'' he said.

The fish typically return in ''pulses,'' Vania noted. So far this year, as in 1998, such pulses are only lasting about a day. In 1999, also considered a below-normal year, the pulses lasted two to three days. In a normal year, pulses can last as long as four days, Vania said.

Despite the low returns, subsistence fishing remains open in all Lower Yukon River districts.

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