FAIRBANKS (AP) An unexpected, late surge of fall chum salmon in the Yukon River has transformed what appeared to be yet another dismal fall chum run into the best return in years.
Sonar at Pilot Station, about 120 miles from the mouth of the Yukon River, counted 280,000 fish over a span of three days, said commercial fisheries biologist Fred Bue with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks.
The sonar counted 50,000 fish on Saturday, 126,000 on Sunday and 104,000 on Monday.
''It's huge for this time of the run,'' Bue told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''We were thinking the run was on its last gas.''
The late glut of fish prompted state and federal biologists to lift restrictions placed on subsistence fishermen that had cut fishing time in half. The rivers will revert to a full subsistence fishing schedule as soon as possible, said Bue.
The run represents the best fall chum run in five years. The fall chum run, along with the king and summer chum runs, collapsed in 1998 and have remained stagnant since. At one point former Gov. Tony Knowles declared western Alaska a disaster because of failed salmon runs.
Despite the late push of fish, biologists remain only cautiously optimistic, in large part because they're not convinced the sonar count is accurate.
The sonar count for the summer chum run was 1.2 million fish, much higher than the estimate generated by escapement projects in spawning tributaries.
Biologists saw only about 60 percent of the Pilot Station sonar count on the spawning grounds, Bue said. While there's a chance the remaining 40 percent of fish could have gone undetected, biologists are still skeptical about the sonar numbers for summer chum.
The fall chum run was shaping up better than biologists had projected even before the surge of fish, but biologists were still only estimating a run of between 500,000 and 600,000.
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