Frequently Asked Questions – Answered for the 2014 salmon season

Your Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Guide to 2014 Summer Season Management

By Eric Newland and Dr. Stephanie Schmidt, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G)

It was an early break up on the Yukon River this year. That means the summer fishing season is beginning a bit earlier than the last several years. As we did last year, we decided to put together a FAQ guide of what to expect for the 2014 summer season management.

Unfortunately, the preliminary outlook for Chinook salmon is looking similar or even worse when compared to the poor run observed last year. The extremely conservative management measures implemented last year and fishermen’s voluntarily harvest reduction resulted in the smallest subsistence harvest on record.  However, with such a small run size we still fell short of several escapement objectives.  So in 2014 we’re looking at another summer in which we will be challenged to meet our escapement goals.

We have been talking with many Yukon River fishermen in the last couple of months at numerous meetings and over the phone for RAC and AC meetings. The official preseason outlook was released in May 1 and can be found at:

http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/applications/dcfnewsrelease/401593148.pdf

The following FAQ guide is not meant to be an exhaustive list of concerns and questions – just a few of the more common ones. Please refer to the official outlook mentioned above for further details on the upcoming summer season or feel free to call the Emmonak ADF&G office with any questions or concerns at 907-949-1320.

Can I harvest Chinook salmon this summer?

There will be no directed Chinook salmon subsistence fishing this year.  Opportunity will be provided to harvest other species using gear types that do not target Chinook salmon or allow for release of Chinook salmon.  However, every effort to reduce the incidental harvest of Chinook salmon will be necessary to meet escapement goals.

Will I be able to subsistence fish for other species of fish during the summer season?

Fishing opportunities will be provided to harvest non-salmon such as sheefish, pike, and whitefish early in the season prior to the arrival of Chinook salmon. As a precautionary measure a 6-inch or smaller mesh restriction will be in place in the Lower Yukon to harvest non-salmon species while conserving Chinook salmon.

Once Chinook salmon have entered the river and then migrate up the river, there will be subsistence salmon fishing closures to protect Chinook salmon. During subsistence salmon fishing closures, non-salmon fishing opportunities will be provided with 4-inch or smaller mesh size gillnets not exceeding 60-feet in length. This opportunity will be provided in Districts 1-6. However, no targeting of Chinook salmon with this gear type will be allowed.  This opportunity to harvest non-salmon species will be discontinued if this gear is used to target Chinook salmon.

Fishermen in the Lower Yukon districts should be prepared to target summer chum salmon with dip nets and beach seines for subsistence and commercial purposes.  No Chinook salmon may be retained using dip nets or beach seines. It is likely that subsistence and commercial fishing times will be overlapping in Districts 1 and 2.

In Districts 4 and 6, subsistence and commercial fishermen who intend to harvest summer chum salmon should be prepared to man their fish wheel to carefully release the Chinook salmon alive and immediately to the water.

It is uncertain how much opportunity will be provided to target summer chum salmon in District 5. Summer chum salmon are less abundant in many portions of the district. If opportunity is provided, it would likely be limited the harvest of summer chum salmon is likely to be minimal. Fishermen in District 5 should be primarily prepared to wait until later in the season to harvest fall chum salmon.

It is unlikely that the traditional 6-inch or smaller mesh gillnets will be allowed to harvest summer chum salmon if the Chinook salmon run is as poor as projected.  Unlike dip nets, beach seines, and fish wheels with live chutes, this gear type still catches and kills Chinook salmon. This option will only be considered after the vast majority of the Chinook salmon run has passed.

Can I keep the Chinook salmon that I incidentally catch when I am targeting summer chum salmon or other species of fish?

Chinook salmon, by regulation, must be released alive when using dip nets and beach seines. Safely returning a Chinook salmon caught in a dip net back to the water alive is relatively simple. However, the department plans to coordinate with fishermen to ensure safe handling practices are being exercised when releasing Chinook salmon caught in beach seines. Fishermen can start thinking about what fishing locations would best fit these gear types.

If fishermen catch a Chinook salmon while fishing for non-salmon in either the 6-inch gear during the early season or in the 4-inch mesh gear type they would be allowed to keep them. However, again we hope that fishermen will try to avoid Chinook salmon at all costs when fishing for non-salmon species.

I have never used a dip net or beach seine. How do they work? Will I even catch fish?

While changing to new gear types or fishing practices is challenging, Yukon fishermen are leading the way in finding ways to harvest the fish resources that are abundant while conserving Chinook salmon.

Fishing with a dip net was very successful last year. The commercial harvest of summer chum salmon in the Lower Yukon fishery was the largest recorded in several decades, partly due to the success of the commercial dip net fishery.  The dip net gear seems to work best where summer chum salmon were the most concentrated. Fishermen in the lower river commercial dip net fishery were able to release Chinook salmon quickly and easily back to the water when encountered in their dip nets.

What if I don’t have the allowable gear types?

We understand that some fishermen do not have dip nets, beach seines, fish wheels with live chutes, or 4-inch or smaller mesh size gillnets, and buying new gear is expensive.  However, we hope that people can find ways to work collaboratively within their community to share gear and harvest. If you don’t have the gear, do you know someone else in your community who does and you could work with them to share it?

Why are the Chinook salmon runs so low right now?

This is a great question and one that is being asked by many scientists across Alaska and even researchers outside of Alaska. Despite adequate escapement in past years, Chinook salmon runs on the Yukon continue to decline. This is due to local production – or the number of fish coming back from each spawner that makes it to the spawning grounds. The cause of this low production is not certain. However it is likely that many factors acting together are contributing to the decline in Chinook salmon. It could be caused by changes in the marine environment, such as changes in water temperature or changes in predators or food availability, and much more. It could also be caused by changes in the freshwater environment, such as changing water temperatures, increased flooding events, changes in predators or food, and much more. There are several research initiatives aimed at understanding the decline in Chinook salmon in the Yukon River and across the state of Alaska. More information on what those initiatives are researching can be found at:

State of Alaska Chinook Salmon Research Initiative

A state funded research program aimed at understanding Chinook salmon declines across the state of Alaska.  Over the next several years, up to $30 million will be spent studying 12 indicator stocks in Alaska. One of those stocks includes Yukon River Chinook salmon. Studies vary from stock to stock, but for the Yukon River, some of them include research on: juvenile Chinook salmon as they are leaving the river and entering the marine environment, Chinook salmon freshwater spawning and rearing habitat, trends in harvest patterns and subsistence fishing, and local and traditional knowledge.

Website: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=chinookinitiative.main

Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Sustainable Salmon Initiative (AYKSSI) – Chinook Salmon Research Action Plan: Evidence of Decline of Chinook Salmon Population and Recommendation for Future Research

AYK SSI, a collaborative native-state-federal salmon research program, assembled a Chinook salmon expert panel to review and synthesize available information on the declines and to identify the most likely causes of decline for Chinook salmon in the AYK region. Seven hypotheses were identified as potential stressors or drivers in the decline of Chinook salmon. The research action plan will help guide future calls for research proposals in the coming years.

Website: http://www.aykssi.org/aykssi-chinook-salmon-research-action-plan-2013/