King salmon runs only half of anticipated

Even before this fishing season began, Alaska fishery biologists expected they could be in for a funky year.

Cold waters in the Alaska Current sweeping the Gulf of Alaska warned them salmon were likely to return later than normal.

Unexpected, though, was that fewer of the fish would come back at all. Some biologists are wondering now whether a northern ocean chilled by La Nina -- El Nino's frigid alter ego -- might have done more than just delay returns.

Some places, the result has been a disaster.

Commercial fisheries on the Yukon River are closed. Subsistence fishing there has been cut back significantly. And biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are still worried that too few salmon will escape nets and fish wheels to ensure future runs.

The spawning goal is 100,000 of the big fish upriver. Projections based on early sonar counts at Pilot Point on the lower river indicate the entire king run might number only 100,000, possibly less. It's normally at least twice as large.

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