FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The fall chum salmon season on the Yukon River is shaping up to be the best in half a decade.
Fisheries managers have reopened subsistence fishing for chum along much of the Yukon River, though those who depend on the fish in the Tanana River drainage will have to wait for the autumn staple to arrive.
Projections are now double what managers for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predicted before the season started.
''It's certainly not as good as it has been in the past,'' said Fred Bue, Fish and Game's fall manager for the Yukon River. ''But it's certainly encouraging that subsistence fishermen are able to meet their needs.''
Fall chum are especially important for mushers, who dry the fish and use it to feed sled dogs throughout the winter. The cost for shipping commercial dog food to the Bush is prohibitive, and many tie the fish runs to their ability to keep dog teams.
The fall chum run is spread along the river from the mouth all the way to Fort Yukon. The fish are expected to continue entering the mouth of the Yukon through the last week of August, before eventually giving way to silvers. Biologists believe that Tanana River fish enter the Yukon toward the end of the run.
Managers, however, are still worried about this year's summer chum, which are still entering the Tanana. They hope to put more on the spawning grounds by keeping the Tanana and its drainages closed until fall chum appear. An opening might be possible toward the end of the month.
Current projections, based on fish counting projects in several locations, including the Pilot Station sonar, call for 530,000 to 640,000 fall chums. That would be bigger than the 1997 run estimate of 521,531 fish and the largest return since 1995. The state Board of Fisheries has set 600,000 as the number of fish required for a full subsistence harvest.
The reopening, which is limited to those who live in the Yukon drainage, should help mushers who live upriver. Those who live closer to the mouth, though, have already missed the benefit of this year's run, former Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion Emmitt Peters said.
''By the time they opened it up,'' he said, ''the fish have already gone by. The season is pretty well gone.''
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