The first salmon of this year’s Yukon River chinook run have crossed the border into Canadian waters.
As of July 2, 2,507 fish had reached the Eagle sonar station just below the border.
That’s just over five per cent of the goal of allowing 42,500 chinook to make it to Canadian spawning grounds.
It’s too early to say at this point whether the goal will be met, said Steve Gotch, a director with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
The final count has fallen short in five of the last seven years. This year aboriginal groups and fisheries managers are going to great lengths to protect the run.
“We’re approaching the season with caution, just given the performance of our previous years’ forecasts where in 2013 we overestimated the number of fish that were likely to return to Canada,” said Gotch. “We need to ensure that enough fish get to the spawning grounds to ensure the health of the population into the future.”
In American portions of the watershed all chinook fishing has been banned. Some fishing targeting the summer chum run is allowed, using only equipment that would allow immediate release of accidentally-caught chinook.
Here in the Yukon, First Nations are prohibited from fishing as well.
It’s the first time ever the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has shut down the aboriginal chinook harvest on the Yukon River.
Despite treaty rights to harvest fish from traditional territories, Yukon First Nations have agreed to comply with the order to save the chinook.
Tr’ondek Hwech’in council in Dawson City passed a resolution implementing a full closure on chinook fishing for all members until the escapement goal has been met.
“In 2003 the Canadian-origin chinook salmon run was estimated at 150,000 fish. Today, the anticipated run is between 31,000 and 61,000,” according to the news release.
“Traditional knowledge informs us that the bigger chinook salmon have disappeared, migration timing is shorter than usual, and the ‘pulses’ of fish are shorter compared to healthy runs of the past. The run has been on a downward decline, and TH hopes our efforts to protect this valuable staple food source will one day bring back healthy returns.”
If more than 42,500 fish cross the border, some aboriginal harvest may be permitted.
Fisheries and Oceans expects that it will be able to make a more accurate prediction on the run by the middle of the month, said Gotch.
In the U.S. the run has turned out better than expected.
The preseason forecast called for a return of about 60,000 to 120,000 fish, and managers were bracing for actual returns on the low end of that spectrum.
As of this week 123,000 fish had entered the mouth of the river, surpassing the upper end of the predicted return.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at