After having made a post recently in anticipation of this year’s Yukon River salmon season, I received some sad news about this month’s openings. Alaska Fish and Game agents moniter the fish heading into the river and will only approve an opening of the commercial fishing season if and when there are enough salmon making their way upriver to assure ample fish to spawn, in turn assuring the health of future generations of the river’s salmon. This is a practice I’ve seen in operation on the Yukon River and on Kodiak Island, where I straddled a wier across the mouth of a small river, alongside fishery agents counting the fish passing through the wier’s gates.
In the case of Yukon River–all 2000-plus miles of it–there is a large population of salmon that call this vast river home. There are also many Native families along the river, both in the United States and Canada, who rely on the fish for their subsistance needs through the long harsh winters. Last in line of priority is commercial catch of the delicious fish. This year, the counts of king salmon in the lower river are so low that the Fish and Game folks have determined that there will be no commercial season for Yukon River king salmon this year. And they’re even having to limit the opening times for subsistence fishing, worried that too might overtax the low populations thus far in the season.
BUT, I just got off the phone with my Yukon River contact and while things look grim, there’s still a chance some of the salmon make their way into retail and restaurant channels yet. King counts are being reevaluated every day and it’s possible they’re just running late this year. Also, other species–keta and coho–are likely to be harvested later in the summer and they’ll make for equally delicious cooking as well.
Much as we might take this as a blow to our backyard barbecue plans for this summer, it’s an even bigger blow to the families along the Yukon who rely on that commercial harvest for their livelihoods. Gas prices have already taken a big bite out of their income. Please do support those families with your dining dollars when any Yukon fish make their way to your area over the coming months.