Lower Yukon sees low coho run so far

by Angela Denning-Barnes on September 12, 2013

The state’s salmon counting sonar project at Pilot Station on the Yukon River is showing a very low coho salmon run this year. In fact, it’s considered the second lowest on record. Meanwhile, the fall chum run appears healthy.

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The state’s salmon counting sonar project at Pilot Station on the Yukon River is showing a very low coho salmon run this year. In fact, it’s considered the second lowest on record.

Jeff Estenson is the Yukon River Fall Season Manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“In terms of what it’s looking like right now based on Pilot Station, it was definitely a below average run,” Estenson says.

Test drifts done by the Lower Yukon River Cooperative Drift Test Fishing through September 8th showed the coho run was below the historical median.

However, that doesn’t mean that the run’s a bust.

Estenson says the only escapement goal the state has for coho salmon is at the Delta Clear water river it’s possible that they will still meet that goal.

Managers did take conservation measures. Because of the low passage at Pilot Station, Estenson says they did not have commercial openings targeting coho salmon in the lower river.

Meanwhile, the fall chum salmon season has wrapped up for the most part and the run appears healthy. Fall chum are bigger and have a higher fat content than the summer chum and they spawn further upriver, crossing the Canadian border.

“Our objective is anywhere from 70 to 104,000 fish, fall chum, past the Canadian border,” Estenson says.

He says it’s too early to tell whether that goal will be met.

Based on in-season assessments, managers believe the fall chum run fell between 900-thousand and one million fish. Six pulses entered the Yukon River this season. The fourth and fifth pulses were the largest in abundance and came in August 12-20. The estimated number of fish in those pulses combined was about 462,000 fish.

The state’s Pilot Station sonar project ceased operations for the season on September 7.

The village there is pretty much done putting up their fall chum and coho.

Martin Kelly is the Tribal Administrator for Pilot Station.

“Most of the people here, they dried chum, fall chum, probably some cohos,” Kelly says.

Although King salmon is traditionally the most desired fish on the Lower Yukon, the run has been poor in recent years. Kelly says Pilot Station residents have focused more on putting up later runs for their winter supplies. This year was no different.

“I think that’s been our main staple,” Kelly says. “We’ve become to rely on more and more fall chum and some of the coho because we had low numbers of Kings returning on the Yukon this year.”

He says over the years, residents have begun to rely on the test fish that are donated to the community every day from the local test fishery run by the state and the Lower Yukon River Cooperative Drift Test Fishing. The project has been running their since 1986.

“A lot of the families usually take advantage of the salmon that they bring to the village and pick them out at the dock,” Kelly says.

The number of fish donated daily range from just a few to over 100 during pulses.

Kelly says the donated fish help residents save on gas which is currently running $8.03 per gallon.

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