If you’re wondering how low the Yukon’s salmon fishery has fallen, you have only to look at this year’s healthy return.
It exists only because of an Alaskan technical glitch.
Sediment carried into the river by the melting of heavy snows made it particularly cloudy this year, obscuring the salmon as they made their way past a sonar array 197 kilometres from the
This led state officials to believe this year’s salmon run was calamitous, and they slapped unprecedented restrictions on subsistence fishers, a designation that applies to all rural
homesteaders and First Nations who rely on fish to survive.
However, by the time the fish reached a sonar station at Eagle, Alaska, where the water was clearer, suddenly there were salmon. But they were already beyond the reach of most of the
Alaskan subsistence fishers, who usually catch in the neighbourhood of 24,000 chinook.
Of course, the run still wasn’t great. But it was far better than officials believed.
More than 68,000 chinook passed Eagle. That’s about double what passes upstream into Yukon every year.
As a result, the Yukon received an influx of salmon that would normally have been caught by Alaskans.
That’s good news for the territory and for the salmon this year, but it’s not something to cheer.
This year’s sonar malfunction simply shows how fragile the resource is.
And now Alaskans are so angry about the goof they are unlikely to trust or abide by future restrictions on the subsistence fishery.
Good management of the fishery depends on co-operation and trust between nations and the fishers on both sides of the border. This year, that was dealt a blow. That bodes poorly for
returns in future years.
It’s becoming clear the return is no longer large enough to feed the Alaskan subsistence fishery, Yukon fishers and the spawning beds.
Something has to change. The existing fishery is broken.
The Yukon River chinook’s only hope is for both nations and fishers to work together to come up with new ways to share the resource equitably.
If they don’t, there won’t be any left for future generations.