Eddie Skookum wants to save the chinook.
The chief of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation has called a meeting between all salmon fishermen today, in hopes of finding a way.
“This is a highly critical time of what to do,” he said. “There’s only so much salmon coming down. It’s very, very low. We may not even get anything. But the fact of the matter is, if we want to see salmon tomorrow, we have to do our part today.”
The meeting will announce another year of voluntary cutbacks for the Carmacks-based First Nation, said Skookum.
But the chief wants to see all fisherman, First Nation or not, do even more this year.
“We need to do something now,” he said. “We want to see a recovery plan of some type. And we want to talk to the Alaskans about that too. The salmon has one highway and they know no boundaries.”
Skookum has a lot of questions for the Alaskans. He still points a finger to the pollack fisheries off the Pacific coast as a culprit for “decimating” the run. That fishery has been long-recognized as a threat because of high bycatch, or accidental killing of other fish, including chinook. New restrictions were put in place in recent years, including fines, and the amount of bycatch reported by pollack fishermen have been lower than ever before.
Skookum also points to overfishing and competition with hatchery fish “in other jurisdictions” as threats to the chinook run, which enters the Yukon River from the Pacific Ocean and travels through Alaska and past Dawson City before getting to Carmacks and Whitehorse.
For his part, Skookum is recommending that no fisherman catch more than what they need this year.
“Hopefully, other communities will catch on and try and do the same,” he said.
In a good year, his community will catch between 1,600 to 1,800 salmon with anywhere from 40 to 120 for each family, said Skookum.
Last year, only 812 salmon were caught, and most Little Salmon/Carmacks citizens made do with only one or two salmon per family, he said.
“It’s not enough but it’s better than nothing,” said Skookum. “We want to let some of the salmon go down to our counterparts down the river and make sure they try and get some too.
“Our elders are going to go fish. But they themselves have a very strong consideration for cutbacks. And that’s a good thing.”
Apart from human-caused concerns, climate change is also affecting the run, said Skookum.
Warmer temperatures and more rain also mean higher water levels and more dangerous fishing conditions, he said.
As of July 18, only 1,367 salmon had passed the Eagle Sonar station at the Yukon/Alaska border – more than 5,000 shy of the average at this time. The next count won’t be released until Thursday and will give much better evidence for what can be expected this year, said Mary Ellen Jarvis from the Yukon’s branch of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
But even with current numbers, managers can confirm the run is later than normal and “appears to be very poor at this time,” Jarvis added.
Skookum hopes the fishermen’s meeting will bring lots of discussion and ideas – not just for how to cope this year, but also for how to recover the salmon for generations to come, he said.
No idea should be unexplored, said Skookum. He is even considering asking the federal government to declare this year’s run a disaster, as Alaskan Governor Sean Parnell has done for the state’s river villages, this year and last.
“We have depended on the salmon for hundreds of years. It’s our food staple,” said Skookum. “It’s one of the things that we get by on in the winter, we share it for our dinners and potlatches. Look at our logo, you see the salmon on top. That’s one of our staples. But now it’s a grave concern.”
Today’s meeting will start at 1:30 p.m. at the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation Heritage Hall.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at