FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A strong silver salmon run prompted state and federal regulators to reopen the middle Yukon River to limited subsistence fishing on Saturday.
The coho opening covers the villages of Anvik, Grayling, Kaltag, Nulato, Koyukuk, Galena, Ruby, Tanana and villages within the Koyukuk River drainage. Fishing will be open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Only fish wheels with live chutes can be used, the state Department of Fish and Game and the Federal Subsistence Board decreed. And fishermen have to release any fall chum salmon they catch.
''With the strength of the coho run, we thought it would be worth it to open it up for coho to help make up for some of the chum shortfall,'' said area management biologist Bonnie Borba with Fish and Game in Fairbanks. ''We're trying to help (fishermen) get what they can.''
The lowest fall chum salmon return on record forced state and federal officials to close subsistence fishing on Aug. 23 in an attempt to conserve fish for spawning.
As a result, many villagers on the middle and upper Yukon River and Tanana River haven't been able to catch enough fish to feed their families and dog teams this winter.
Normally, subsistence fishermen catch about 150,000 fall chums, but biologists said this year's harvest will be only about 10,000 fish. But this year's silver salmon run is developing into one of the best ever, said Borba.
As of Aug. 30, almost 170,000 silvers had passed a sonar counter at Pilot Station on the lower river. That already surpasses the average run of 155,000 fish and is nearly twice the average for that date.
Normally, about half the subsistence catch in September is comprised of coho salmon and the other half consists of fall chums, said Borba. The two runs overlap, making it impossible to fish for one species and not catch the other.
A live chute, typically made of plywood, requires fishermen to man their fish wheels the entire time they are turning so they can quickly return chums to the river.
''It's pretty labor-intensive or boring, whatever you want to call it,'' said Tanana fishermen Bill Fliris. ''It depends on how many fish you catch.''
Fliris isn't sure how effective fishing with live chutes will be.
''Nobody has really done it around here,'' he said. ''If the cohos come in strong and the water goes down, I think people will be able to put up some fish -- maybe not all the fish they need for winter, but they'll get some fish.''
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