Concerned that a hobbled Yukon River king salmon run remains weak, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has closed Alaska's largest river to sport fishing all year in a prelude to "closures and severe restrictions to the subsistence king salmon fishery again in 2016," said Tim Viavant, a Fish and Game regional management coordinator.
"King salmon stocks throughout western Alaska are continuing to experience a period of low productivity and, since at least 2010, below-average run strength," according to Viavant, but there's a caveat.
"The forecast is slightly higher than last year's run size," he said, "so it's a little better. It's still not great. But we may be getting into some years of better production."
Some 84,000 kings were counted last year past the state sonar at Eagle, about 1,200 miles upstream from the mouth of the Yukon. That represented a big jump from the previous two years — up 32 percent from 2014 and 173 percent from 2013.
"That was much higher than anticipated, and the result of severe restrictions in the subsistence fishery all the way down the river," Viavant said.
Not since at least 2005 have that many kings passed Eagle, near the Canadian border.
"In four of the past eight years, (the) escapement goal for king salmon in Canada was not attained," Viavant wrote. In the other four years, only by closing commercial and sport fishing and "severe restrictions to subsistence opportunity" were the goals met.
Contrast that to the 1990s when the total Yukon king run bordered on 300,000 kings entering the river, Vaivant said. That's more than double what recent years have seen. "And the subsistence harvest was quite substantial in those years," he added.
Viavant predicted "closures and severe restrictions to the subsistence king salmon fishery again in 2016."
The Tanana River drainage, which feeds into the Yukon, is excluded from the closure.
Alaska trails conference underway
With 663,300 square miles of terrain, Alaska is hardly jam-packed with trails. But the Alaska Trail Statewide Trails Conference at the BP Energy Center in Anchorage through Saturday will emphasize doing more with less.
Among the sessions will be increasing diversity on trails, combating invasives, new technology and helical pile-elevated walkways.
Speakers include Alaska science writer Ned Rozell, talking about his book on hiking from Valdez to Prudhoe Bay; state Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, on the trans-Alaska trail idea he's proposed; and Anne Johnson on a statewide digital mapping initiative.
"Bringing together trail users, builders and managers under one roof is extremely valuable for networking and collaboration," organizer Steve Cleary of Alaska Trails said in a press release.
Pike limit cut to 2 in Minto Flats
In much of Alaska, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is encouraging anglers to catch lots of northern pike in an effort to help salmon and trout populations that fall prey to the toothy predators. But in Minto Flats, the pike bag limit will be reduced to two fish on June 1 after 770 pike were taken in the Chatanika River drainage so far this year.
The Minto Flats Northern Pike Management Plan requires the bag limit be reduced to two fish once 750 pike are taken from the Chatanika drainage. Subsistence harvests through April 21 show that 770 have been taken.
Only one of the two fish allowed to be caught may be 30 inches or longer.
Anglers are "almost exclusively people from the Fairbanks area snowmachining down for the day in winter. Word of mouth has made this a popular winter activity — particularly during a warm winter like this last one. There were just under 200 subsistence permits issued this last winter, compared to less than 50 in 1999," said Klaus Wuttig, the Tanana River area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. .