Invertebrates and Fish—Subsistence harvest of fish along the Yukon River centers on king salmon for human consumption and chum salmon and a number of lesser species for both dog food and human consumption. Gill nets are the major gear used in this fishery. Recently, subsistence harvests have decreased, probably reflecting the changing life-style and a decreasing dependence on dogs that in the past consumed much of the salmon harvest. Salmon is preserved for future use by drying, smoking, freezing, and canning.
Subsistence harvest of salmon in the Yukon Region has usually been favored over commercial use by the various regulatory agencies. Salmon harvests vary greatly each year, depending on the size of the runs, weather, local water conditions, and availability of local employment. Some areas such as the upper Tanana are more intensively fished, and they require closer regulation.
Largest recent subsistence harvests of salmon, mostly chums, have been taken on the lower Yukon River, although the catch has declined in recent years. Between 1961 and 1965 the chum harvest averaged slightly more than 400,000 fish, but since 1966 this has declined to less than 200,000. During the past 10 to 15 years, the harvest of king salmon for subsistence has averaged slightly less than 20,000 fish, most of them taken in the main Yukon River. While chum salmon travel great distances up the Yukon River and its tributaries, kings comprise a larger percentage of the subsistence harvest in upstream locations on the main river (Figure 176).
Minor species harvested are pink and red salmon in the lower Yukon River, silver salmon, several species of whitefish, Arctic lamprey, suckers, burbot, inconnu, blackfish, northern pike, Arctic grayling, and Dolly Varden char.
Birds—About 80,000 geese, 38,000 ducks, and 1,000 cranes are used annually for subsistence on the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta, a substantial number of these within the Yukon Region. Waterfowl, particularly ducks, are used for subsistence in the wide valleys of the Yukon, Koyukuk, Tanana, and Porcupine Rivers. Other areas in the region also provide waterfowl for subsistence.
Mammals—Aquatic mammals, mainly seals and a few walrus, are a vital resource to many residents of coastal villages on the Yukon delta. Yupiktak Bista (1975), using figures from the Federal Field Committee (1968), estimated that 3,000 to 5,000 seals (hair, harbor, ringed, and ribbon) are used annually on the delta for subsistence. Seal oil is also traded to inland residents of the region. A few walrus, sea lions, and belugas are taken also.
Invertebrates and Fish—The first commercial fishery on the Yukon River began in 1918 when the Carlisle Packing Company established a floating cannery at Andreafsky, now St. Marys. This company fished primarily in Kwikluak Pass and Kwiguk Slough until 1922 when it switched to areas outside the river mouth. Because of conflicts with subsistence harvest, the fishery was entirely eliminated following the 1924 season and did not resume until 1932, when a highly regulated harvest of king salmon only was allowed. A limited harvest of chum and silver salmon was permitted in 1952, 1953, 1954, and 1956. Since then, commercial harvest has been restricted to upstream regions of the Yukon. This small harvest continued until 1961 when the fishery was expanded to again include substantial catches of chums and silvers. Until the early 1960s a few salteries and canneries along the Yukon River, primarily in the delta area, handled the limited harvest.
Today there are two salmon seasons in this region. A king season usually opens around June 1 and continues until late June or early July. In July or early August a chum season opens which continues until late August or early September when commercial buyers end their season. Most of these fisheries use drift and set gill net gear. Set gill nets are especially common near the river mouth and have outnumbered drift gill nets two to one until a recent upsurge in drift gill net use. A few fish wheels are still used for commercial harvest.
In the last few years commercial harvest has increased significantly. The commercial salmon harvest in 1975 exceeded one million fish for the first time. Most of each year's catch comes from the delta area downstream from Mountain Village. While the annual harvest of king salmon has remained fairly constant, slightly less than 100,000 fish for the entire river, the harvest of chum salmon has increased rapidly from less than 100,000 fish in the 1960s to almost one million in 1975. The increased harvest in upstream areas, including the Tanana River, has necessitated the redistricting of the Yukon River by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game so it can be more closely regulated. Prior to 1974 the harvest upstream from Holy Cross seldom exceeded 10,000 fish. In 1975, primarily due to the increased harvest of chum salmon, these upstream areas yielded more than 250,000 salmon to commercial fishermen (Figure 176).
Birds and Mammals—Commercial use of marine mammals is not permitted under provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. No commercial use is made of aquatic birds, but such aquatic mammals as beaver, mink, muskrat, and otter are trapped for their fur.
Sport and Recreation
The remoteness and lack of facilities on the lower Yukon River limit the use of this area by sport anglers. However, the Andreafsky and lnnoko Rivers support a limited inconnu (sheefish) and northern pike fishery in their lower reaches and, with the Anvik River, have Arctic grayling available in their upper reaches. Further up the Yukon River, inconnu are sought in the Nowitna, Yuki, and Melozitna Rivers, northern pike in the Nowitna and Yuki Rivers, and Arctic grayling in the upper reaches of the Melozitna River. Access to these areas is chiefly by riverboat or floatplane.
In the Koyukuk drainage sport anglers concentrate on lake trout and northern pike in the lakes and inconnu, northern pike, and Arctic grayling in the streams. Wild, Helpmejack, and lniakuk Lakes are among those most fished by sport anglers. The prime river fishery is on the Koyukuk River where inconnu are sought from July through October near the village of Hughes and at the mouth of the Alatna River.
In the upper Yukon River basin, the Steese Highway to Circle, the pipeline haul road, and the Taylor Highway into the Yukon Territory provide the only highway access to the Yukon River. Most of the small, clear streams and river headwaters provide excellent seasonal Arctic grayling fishing. The points at which these rivers empty into the Yukon River yield inconnu and northern pike. Important lakes for lake trout, Arctic grayling, and northern pike fishing are Chandalar, Squaw, and Old John. In most of this region angling pressure is light due to limited access.
A more complex road system provides access to many lakes important to the residents as well as a growing number of tourists. The upper Chena River is popular for Arctic grayling fishing. The Salcha River, Shaw Creek, Tangle Lakes, and the Tanana River also receive intense angling pressure for Arctic grayling. In addition, the Salcha River supports a small king and chum salmon sport fishery. Chums and kings are fished in the Chena and Goodpaster Rivers and silvers are taken in the upper Delta River in fall. Arctic grayling and inconnu are heavily fished on the Chatanika River. A spear fishing season for whitefish occurs during the fall and is becoming increasingly popular. Northern pike are found in most lakes in the area. In the Minto Flats area pike of more than 20 pounds are commonly caught. Other important northern pike areas are East Twin, Healy, Harding, Volkmar, Mansfield, Tetlin, and Wien Lakes and the bays and sloughs of the larger rivers and streams. Fishing pressure in these and other areas is increasing rapidly. Inconnu are sought mainly in the upper Chatanika and Chena Rivers and Minto Flats. Additional Arctic grayling waters are Fielding Lake, upper Delta River, Goodpaster River, Mineral Lake outlet, and Clearwater Creek. Lake trout are sought in Harding and Fielding Lakes and the Tangle Lakes system. Burbot are sought in Harding Lake and most of the deeper lakes in the area and in the sloughs of the larger rivers and streams.
Birds and Mammals—Aquatic birds from the Yukon Region are a valuable international recreational resource for hunting as well as aesthetic enjoyment along their migration routes and resting areas throughout parts of Canada, the United States, Mexico, and even South America. Sport hunting of waterfowl in the Yukon Region is limited because of the low density of human population and simultaneous open season on big game. Although excellent opportunities for waterfowl hunting are available for a short while between the opening of the season and freezeup, few people take advantage of them. As the human population and pressure on other species increase, more people will probably hunt waterfowl. Minto Flats has received considerable hunting pressure from Fairbanks residents who also hunt along the sloughs, creeks, and ponds of the Chena and Tanana Rivers.
Creamer's Field at Fairbanks has long been a resting place for cranes and waterfowl, particularly geese, during both spring and fall migrations. As a result of the widespread interest in these birds, private donations stimulated state and federal agencies to raise additional funds for the State of Alaska to acquire 1,768 acres of this habitat for wildlife and wildlife-oriented recreation.
Marine mammals are not recognized as a significant recreational resource in the region.
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