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Diminished salmon run hatches rift

A perilously small chinook salmon run has closed fisheries in the Yukon and limited First Nation catches.

A perilously small chinook salmon run has closed fisheries in the Yukon and limited First Nation catches.

The Fisheries and Oceans department has asked First Nations to cut its 8,000 limit to 4,000 for convervation reasons.

Subsistence fishing restrictions would leave one chinook salmon for every 10 Ta’an Kwach’an First Nation citizens.

That’s an unacceptable number, says the First Nation.

Ta’an leadership has declared it will ignore the government’s request.

“If we don’t catch the fish, then we have to go to the store and buy it,” said deputy chief Gail Anderson.

“We need salmon to survive. These quotas were set by DFO on their own.”

Fisheries and Oceans closed the commercial and domestic fisheries last week.

The sport fishery is open under a catch-and-release order.

As of Saturday, about 128,000 chinook had passed the Pilot Station sonar in Alaska.

Tatchun Creek near Carmacks will be closed to all anglers because of its biological importance.

“It’s the biggest concentration of spawning salmon,” said Frank Quinn, Fisheries and Oceans area director.

“The chance of catching a chinook is pretty good.”

The complete ban at the popular fishing destination will reduce accidental salmon catches, he added.

Subsistence fishers caught between 4,000 and 5,000 fish last year.

“So the impact (of the suggested restriction) shouldn’t be that great,” said Quinn.

There is an obligation for Fisheries and Oceans in chapter 16 of the Ta’an Final Agreement to negotiate basic needs allocation, which takes priority over all other fisheries.

But the federal government has held up negotiations, according to a news release from Ta’an Chief Ruth Massie.

“We have repeatedly stated that current harvest studies do not reflect the basic needs of Ta’an Kwach’an people,” wrote Massie.

Fisheries and Oceans has been working with First Nations to outline its conservation concerns, said Quinn.

Some First Nations have set up community freezers for chinook; some have sent fish monitors door to door or held community meetings asking for co-operation.

“It’s a strong demonstration of leadership,” said Quinn.

Conservation efforts of the Ta’an have included the clean-up of Lake Laberge, and salmon rearing and spawning streams.

The First Nation has also restored streams that salmon had once used.

This year, citizens will put nets in the river for 24 hours and remove them for the next 24 to ease pressure on salmon stock, said Anderson.

Fisheries and Oceans used a 10-year average of catches to for its guidelines to First Nations.

Little Salmon/Carmacks gets 26 per cent, or 1,040, based on the 4,000 limit.

The Pelly region gets 25 per cent, Dawson 18 per cent, Mayo 14 per cent, Ross River five per cent and Teslin one per cent.

The Whitehorse subsistence catch would leave 47 salmon for the region.

Ta’an and Kwanlin Dun would split the 47 salmon.

That would leave 23 fish for 250 Ta’an citizens.

“Most First Nations are allowed to catch more fish then we are,” said Anderson.

People around Pelly Crossing have just begun fishing, said Selkirk First Nation Land and Resources director Beverly Brown.

“(Selkirk) uses a mix of traditional knowledge and science to determine its portion of the subsistence catch,” said Brown.

That means the First Nation would not necessarily follow Ottawa’s suggestions, she added.

“Our salmon fishing policy says when you put in the net, then you’ll know how much to fish.”

About 23,000 to 25,000 salmon passed into Yukon waters last summer, short of the 33,000 to 43,000 goal.

Alaska closed its commercial fishery this year and allowed only limited subsistence fishing.

In June, about 61,000 salmon passed through the Pilot Station sonar in Alaska.

The number jumped to 102,000 on July 4.

Salmon returns are less than half of what was expected.

Current numbers likely mean the fisheries will remain closed for the season, but officials are watching closely for any changes.

“If returns are stronger than expected, then we’ll look at easing restrictions,” said Quinn.

“The information we have right now is that that won’t happen.”

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