Second-worst chinook forecast since ‘95

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

In this file photo, a king salmon lies in a net at Auke Bay. (Bjorn Dihle | For the Juneau Empire)

In this file photo, a king salmon lies in a net at Auke Bay. (Bjorn Dihle | For the Juneau Empire)

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 of 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

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of May 22, 2022

Here’s what to expect this week.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Supreme Court orders use of interim map for elections

The decision came just over a week before the June 1 filing deadline for the August primaries.

A male red-winged blackbird displays his showy red patches and calls to a rival male (Gina Vose photo)
On the Trails: Birds and beetles at Kingfisher Pond

Something is almost always happening at Kingfisher Pond.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Dozens of containers of infant formula, including some eligible to be purchased with WIC benefits, are on shelves at Foodland IGA on Monday. But many other brands are absent and Brad Folckomer, the store’s assistant director, said while certain brands have generally remained available during a critical nationwide shortage, special types some mothers need are missing and it’s unknown when the situation may improve.
Local infant formula shortages likely to persist

Juneau outlets say limited supplies exist, but many brands absent and donations for needy lacking

Syringes and colorful bandages are prepared as children from local schools prepare to get COVID-19 vaccines in Pittsfield, Mass., on Monday Dec. 13, 2021. Three doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine offer strong protection for children younger than 5, the company announced Monday, May 23, 2022. Pfizer plans to give the data to U.S. regulators later this week in a step toward letting the littlest kids get the shots. (Ben Garver / The Berkshire Eagle)
Pfizer says 3 COVID shots protect children under 5

The company released preliminary results on Monday.

This photo shows the Alaska State Capitol. The Capitol will be the site of a committee hearing next month that will focus on the recent firing of Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. CEO Angela Rodell. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Legislature modernizes definition of consent in sexual assault cases

Change made with unanimous support in Legislature.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Tuesday, May 24, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Heather Best (in water), a USGS hydrologist, prepares to toss a road-grader blade with a river-measuring device attached into the Yukon River near Eagle, Alaska. USGS hydrologic technician Liz Richards watches for icebergs. (Courtesy Photo / Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Wading into the icy Yukon River for science

EAGLE, ALASKA — Snow geese flew in a ragged V overhead, rasping… Continue reading

Most Read