Second-worst chinook forecast since ‘95 for Taku River

Second-worst chinook forecast since ‘95 for Taku River

Taku and Stikine rivers expected to see near record low numbers of salmon

Numbers released last week by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecast “very low” numbers of chinook salmon will spawn this summer on the Taku and Stikine rivers.

This is the fourth straight year that too few salmon were expected for there to be an allowable catch.

“It’s been trending down for quite awhile,” said David Harris, area management biologist for Juneau for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commercial fishers division. “Hopefully things start to improve.”

ADF&G expects 9,050 adult chinook will spawn on the Taku River, which means there is no allowable catch expected because the expected number is well below the escapement goal range of 19,000-36,000 fish, according to the report. The report forecasts 8,250 chinook will spawn on the Stikine River, which is below the escapement goal range of 14,000-28,000 fish.

“Due to the very low forecasts and recent poor runs to these transboundary rivers, all salmon fisheries in Districts 8 and 11 will have extensive conservation measures in effect through the duration of the chinook salmon runs in 2019,” states the ADF&G report, which was issued by the division of commercial fisheries.

Escapement goal ranges represent the number of chinook the ADF&G estimates are needed to keep the run healthy. This is the fourth year in a row that the ADF&G has estimated too few chinook will return to the Taku and Stikine rivers.

The estimated terminal run size represents how many chinook the agency expects to spawn every summer based on data gathered from fisheries during the summer months. The report is issued annually in December.

“For the fourth year in a row, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game has forecasted that too few chinook will return to the Taku and Stikine rivers to support commercial fishing,” said Jill Weitz, Salmon Beyond Borders Campaign Director, in a statement. “This forecast adds urgency to the need to address abandoned, operating, and planned British Columbia large-scale mines upstream from Alaska in the Taku and Stikine watersheds, about which Alaskans have had very little meaningful input — despite receiving all of the risk and none of the benefits from these projects.”

While the numbers are lower than usual, they are an increase from last year’s predictions, which forecast some of the lowest figures since the mid-1970s. In 2018, ADF&G expected only 4,700 chinook will spawn on the Taku River and only 6,900 chinook were expected.

“The forecasts are much improved from last year, but they’re still among the worst,” Harris said. “They’re probably the second worst ever.”

Harris said the numbers go back to 1995.

The reason for the low number of fish seems to be mainly driven by what happens to the fish once they leave fresh water systems, Harris said.

“It’s circling around ocean survival right now,” Harris said. “There’s no evidence the freshwater portion of a fish’s life cycle is compromised. Once they go out to sea, they’re just not coming back.”

Harris said there’s many factors, including predation and pollution, that could be impacting the salmon.

“We’ve improved from last year,” Harris said.“We’ve taken really the only thing we can control and that’s harvest.”

Weitz expressed the hope that those who can control other environmental factors take action.

“It is Salmon Beyond Borders’ hope that Governor Mike Dunleavy joins the Alaska congressional delegation in pushing B.C. and Canada to follow through on decades of promises to clean up the abandoned, polluting Tulsequah Chief Mine in the Taku River watershed, and in defending Alaska’s fishing communities and Southeast Alaska’s overall economy,” Weitz said in a statement. “Alaska must have a strong role in establishing binding protections for transboundary salmon rivers like the Taku, Stikine and Unuk.”

It’s unknown whether the improved forecast represents an actual improvement or if last year’s forecast’s were so abysmal that some regression was unavoidable.

Whether the numbers are improving won’t become clear for several more seasons when more data is available.

“This year, there were some glimmers of hope,” Harris said. “We’re all kind of holding our breath. We just don’t know what to expect in a lot of cases.”


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


More in News

Ashlyn O’Hara / Peninsula Clarion
A chicken eats kale inside of a chicken house at Diamond M Ranch on April 1 off Kalifornsky Beach Road. The ranch receives food scraps from the public as part a community program aimed at recovering food waste and keeping compostable material out of the landfill.
More food for the chickens

Central peninsula group awarded grant to expand composting efforts

The Kenai Community Library health section is seen on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. After the Kenai City Council postponed a vote to approve a grant funding health and wellness books, community members set up a GoFundMe to support the purchase of materials. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
After cries of censorship, community raises funds for library

The Kenai City Council voted during its Oct. 20 meeting to postpone acceptance of a $1,500 grant for materials related to health and wellness.

Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Seawatch: North Council nixes bycatch mitigation proposal

NPFMC needs to adopt more holistic approach to management, advisor says.

The Falcon heavy-lift vessel carrying the jack-up rig Randolph Yost left Kachemak Bay on Monday afternoon, Oct. 25. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Jack-up rig Randolph Yost is moved out of Kachemak Bay on Monday by heavy-lift vessel Falcon.

Oil rig had been in Alaska since 2016, was brought up to drill in upper Cook Inlet.

AP Photo / Becky Bohrer
Alaska state Rep. Laddie Shaw, an Anchorage Republican, waits for the start of a so-called technical session on the House floor, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. The fourth special legislative session of the year began Oct. 4, in Juneau, but there has been little action at the Capitol and little progress toward resolving Alaska’s fiscal issues.
Special session trudges on with little action

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he will not call another special session this year.

Anthony Mallott, president  and CEO of Sealaska Corporation reflected on the 50th Anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act during the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce weekly lunch on Thursday. (Courtesy Photo/Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce)
Mallott looks back — and forward — 50 years after ANCSA

Native corporates are big business in Alaska

An Alaska Seaplanes aircraft bound for Skagway crashed during takeoff from Juneau International Airport on Oct. 22, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Plane crashes at Juneau International Airport

Passengers and pilot reported no injuries, said an Alaska Seaplanes spokesperson.

Most Read