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Salmon count in Alaska's Yukon River greater than thought

Recent bans on king salmon fishing on Alaska's Yukon River have regional leaders predicting this winter will be even tougher than last, when some villagers reported they couldn't afford to buy both food and heating fuel.

Plus, it turns out that a sonar station used to count salmon — a key source of cash and food along the river — wasn't working correctly. More fish were making it upriver than estimated, meaning some of the restrictions may not have been necessary.

"We took some unprecedented measures because we thought the run was looking (to be) one of the poorest we've ever had," said Russ Holder, Yukon River federal fisheries manager. "In hindsight, it doesn't look as poor as those numbers indicated to us."

The good news? By allowing so many fish to make it across the border, Alaska met its treaty obligation to Canada for the first time in three years. The agreement requires that enough kings reach the border to ensure strong future runs — plus leave the Canadians a few fish of their own to eat and sell.

That's not much comfort for fishermen in Western Alaska, who faced a string of closures and lost a rare source of cash. In one village, fishermen were angry enough to stage an illegal subsistence fishing trip in protest.

"Terrible. Horrible. There's no word that explains my frustration," said Tim Andrew, natural resources director for the Association of Village Council Presidents, which serves 56 Yukon-Kuskokwim villages.

Look for the issue to surface when Obama administration officials hold an Ocean Policy Task Force meeting Friday in Anchorage. AVCP president Myron Naneng said he plans to tell the federal task force that the Yukon's salmon are being mismanaged and that something needs to be done immediately to reduce the number of kings wasted by the massive Bering Sea pollock fleet.

Read more of this story from the Anchorage Daily News.

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