This time last year, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in had finished their catch of chinook salmon for the season.
This totaled around 1,000 fish.
But by the end of last week, they had hardly any.
“We were a little concerned,” said Tr’ondek Hwech’in fish and wildlife manager James MacDonald from Dawson City.
The First Nation met with the department of Fisheries and Oceans and were reassured that the salmon were on their way, said MacDonald.
“They said they were about a week late.”
And they were right.
Chinook salmon are finally flowing down the Yukon River.
They’ve peaked in Dawson.
So far 38 fish have climbed the fish ladder around the Whitehorse Rapids Dam.
Some have even reached as far as Teslin.
The Tr’ondek Hwech’in were busy pulling in what they could this weekend, as where other First Nations and commercial fisheries along the river.
The fish are late because of an ice blockage at the mouth of the Yukon River that didn’t thaw until late spring.
But by now, about 32,000 chinook have already passed the Alaska-Yukon border, according to biologist Pat Milligan at the department of Fisheries and Oceans.
There are still about another 15,000 to go, he said.
“We have an anticipated total return this year of 47,000.”
That’s about 5,000 more than last year.
A three-day opening for commercial fishing closed today at noon.
This will be the last commercial opening for Chinook salmon this year, said Milligan.
The average commercial catch between 1961 and 2004 was about 6,000 fish, but this year, Milligan expects only 2,000 to be caught.
“As of late last week, the commercial catch was around 1,600,” he said.
“Recent totals are way down from what they used to be in the mid 1990s,” he said.
Aboriginal fishing has so far caught more than 6,000 fish.
Milligan expects recreational fishing to bring in at least 300 and domestic fishing — allowed for certain people residing in remote areas — less than 100.
The total catch should end up being about 8,000, which leaves about 39,000 to reach their spawning grounds throughout the Yukon, he said.
This year Alaska harvested around 46,000 salmon in its commercial fisheries and another 50,000 is expected in its subsistence fishery for native and non-native people in rural areas.
About half of this is Canadian-origin fish.
“They’re catching fish that are also bound for US tributaries,” said Milligan.
Staff of the Whitehorse fish ladder expect fewer fish will be going over this year than last, said manager Jody Giesbrecht.
“We might be lucky if we get 2,000 fish through on this run,” Giesbrecht said.
Last year there were 2,600.
Giesbrecht expects the run to peak about August 15th, the day of the fish ladder will hold its visitor appreciation night.
“We’re having free refreshments, door prizes and a few games for the kids,” she said.
“We hold the salmon all afternoon so hopefully we’ll have a full tank for the entire evening.”
The chinook can also be caught live on camera at www.yukonerergy.ca.