Alaskan overfishing closes Yukon harvest

Overfishing in Alaska is to blame for the closure of domestic, commercial and recreational chinook salmon fisheries on the Yukon River, says the…

Overfishing in Alaska is to blame for the closure of domestic, commercial and recreational chinook salmon fisheries on the Yukon River, says the chair of the Yukon Salmon Committee.

American officials have miscalculated, mismanaged and allowed overfishing this year, causing low salmon runs and severely affecting Yukon fisheries, said Carl Sidney in an interview with the News.

“They’re overfishing at the mouth of the river,” said Sidney, also a fisherman in the Teslin area.

“The Americans know they screwed up the numbers. Bottom line — it’s poor management. They should have had more restrictive closures. I think they miscounted the numbers and thought there’d be more fish coming through.”

Last week, the department of Fisheries and Oceans closed the domestic and commercial chinook salmon fisheries, while recreational fishing is allowed only if anglers release their catches.

This year’s salmon run is estimated at 25,000 to 30,000. Fisheries and Oceans requires an escapement number of 33,000 to 43,000 to keep all fisheries operating.

Salmon run predictions are made at the beginning of the fishing season by a joint technical committee, created by an agreement with Alaska. This is called the Yukon River Salmon Agreement.

“I feel like I’m being bullied into a corner because the fish come through their territory before ours and they take advantage of that,” said Sidney. “By the time the fish get down to my area in Teslin, there’s nothing left to fish.”

According to the Alaskan department of fish and game, 125,000 salmon escaped up river in Alaska and the Yukon, lower than the 150,000 estimate made earlier this summer.

The Alaskan department estimates 40,000 salmon will enter Yukon waters, a number within the escapement goal, but Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans disputes that number.

The incorrect assessments from the Alaskan government have led to overfishing and left little for Yukon fishers, said Sidney.

“Only the aboriginal fishery is open,” said Sidney. That’s not fair to the commercial fishery when you have commercial fishing open in Alaska.

“Our agreements say everybody should have some of the fish. Fifty per cent of whatever comes in the river, the salmon is of Canadian origin. And people in Canada are saying they’re tired of raising the fish so the Americans have it all.”

If overfishing continues, the Yukon fishers should start demanding compensation from their Alaskan counterparts, said Sidney.

“If they want to take advantage of the fishery, and 50 per cent of the fish are raised in Canada, they’re going to have to give us something if they continue taking that much fish,” he said.

Fisheries and Oceans officials have been in contact with their Alaskan counterparts to raise concerns about the low numbers of salmon entering Yukon waters, said area director Frank Quinn.

“The Alaskan government claims they’ve measured conservatively and are aware of the low component of salmon originating in Canada,” said Quinn.

“We’re trying to determine if indeed the numbers were weak and what can be done about it.”

Quinn said the government is “definitely looking at the possibility” of overfishing in Alaskan waters.

Yukon fishers set up voluntary closures to conserve salmon stocks and are given $1.2 million from Alaska for restoration practices, half of which is spent at Canadian discretion, while Canadians fund restoration projects in Alaska.

“We’re just fed up with this whole thing,” said Sidney. “That $1.2 million is supposed to be a compensation package, but the Americans didn’t like us calling it that so we named it a restoration-enhancement package.”

The Yukon River Salmon Agreement was signed in 2002, but Sidney said its success has been spotty at best. There are no provisions for compensation in the agreement.

The Yukon Salmon Committee was set up under the Umbrella Final Agreement to manage salmon and its habitat. The 10 members, consisting of Yukon government and First Nations appointees, make recommendations to governments, but have no decision-making power.

Yukon fishers work hard to preserve salmon stock and have done their part to ensure future generations are able to fish, said Teslin Tlingit Chief Eric Morris.

But that’s not being appreciated elsewhere, he added.

“Anything that happens below us, affects us,” said Morris.

“We have a situation where the commercial fishery has been overfished in areas,” he said.

“As a result of that — I don’t know if you’d call it mismanagement — they’ve done themselves out of their livelihood.

“Not to say that people in the Yukon have done that, but down on the coast on the ocean before they enter the river has been a problem.”

Anglers in the Teslin area participate in “no-fish days,” among other programs, to help preserve the stocks, but “there’s still a lot of work to be done” to keep the numbers up, said Morris.

Many people near Teslin fish for their families.

“Myself, that’s my food,” said Sidney. “We don’t sell it. This is food off our table. At the end of the line down in the Teslin… the final destination, we bear the brunt of this whole thing.”

By the time salmon reach spawning grounds, they’re about ready to die and they’re not as hearty as they were at the beginning of the Yukon River.

“Down in Teslin, it’s not that great a quality by the time they get here, but we’ve been raised on it,” said Sidney.

Sidney said changes are needed to the process of how the salmon runs are predicted.

“I’ve been pretty adamant about including elders in the process to incorporate traditional knowledge in their decision making,” he said.

An education exchange, which would bring Alaskan fishers down to Teslin to survey the salmon stock, would help Americans see the problems of overfishing, suggested Sidney.

“I think people are fed up with bowing down to the Americans,” Sidney said. “The fishers haven’t been making money for the last 10 years or so. Nobody’s making any money on it.”

Just Posted

Car crashes through Whitehorse school fence

2 people taken to hospital, no kids hurt

Tagish dog rescue owner asks for court order to get rid of dogs to be put on hold

Shelley Cuthbert argued forcing her to get rid of all but two dogs would cause ‘irreparable harm’

No vacancy: Whitehorse family spends five months seeking housing

‘I didn’t think it would be this hard’

Bedbug situation in Whitehorse building becoming intolerable, resident says

Gabriel Smarch said he’s been dealing with bedbugs since he moved into his apartment 15 years ago

Yukon government transfers responsibility for Native Language Centre to CYFN

‘At the end of the day the importance is that First Nations have control of the language’

The week in Yukon mining

Goldcorp re-submits Coffee plans, Mount Nansen sale looms, Kudz Ze Kayah comments open

Ice, ice, baby: scaling a frozen Yukon waterfall

‘There’s a really transformative affect with adventure’

Says Marwell is problematic, requests council further hash it out

You can buy alcohol and tobacco on Main Street in Whitehorse —… Continue reading

Yukon history is picture post card perfect

The most interesting gift I received at Christmas this year was the… Continue reading

Contentious Whitehorse quarry proposal raises city hackles

‘We’ve had concerns from the get-go on this one’

Whitehorse time machine

Yukon’s capital added 10,000 people over the last three decades, no YESAB application needed

How to make sure your car starts in the cold

It’s about more than just making sure your plug works

Whitehorse fuel delivery company fined $1,100 for Rancheria crash

The Crown stayed two other charges against the company related to the Aug. 7, 2017, crash

Most Read