First Nations call for action on chinook

Yukon First Nations are calling on the federal government to do more to protect Yukon River salmon.

Yukon First Nations are calling on the federal government to do more to protect Yukon River salmon.

Under the 2002 Yukon River Salmon Agreement, Alaska must allow 42,500 chinook to get past the border, plus enough for Yukon First Nations to take a share of the harvest.

But that goal was not met in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013.

There are no provisions in the treaty for penalties or enforcement.

Carl Sidney, chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council, wrote a letter last week requesting a meeting with Fisheries Minister Gail Shea to discuss his concerns.

Sidney would like her to meet with American officials and push for better enforcement of the treaty, he said in an interview.

The Council of Yukon First Nations has also written Shea in recent months to draw her attention to the issue.

Minister Shea could not be reached for comment by press time.

Teslin is right at the end of the Yukon River salmon run, so that community bears the brunt when too many fish are taken downstream, said Sidney.

“We do have an aboriginal right to be able to harvest food and harvest salmon, and in Teslin we haven’t been harvesting salmon to any capacity at all. Last year we took 24. It’s taken for ceremonies and potlatches, stuff like that. Just a few families go and take the salmon. We have to buy salmon from Atlin, from the Taku River from Telegraph, from Stikine River, other tributaries. It’s just not the same as having the Yukon River salmon.”

A full Yukon aboriginal chinook harvest is estimated to be 8,000 fish.

Yukon First Nations have voluntarily held back in recent years to protect spawning chinook.

In 2012, they took 2,200 fish.

In the United States, management measures have been put in place to protect the chinook, especially the first pulse to enter the Yukon River, since most of those are headed for Canadian water.

This year the commercial fishery was closed altogether, with limited openings for subsistence fishers.

But that doesn’t do enough, said Sidney. He gave the example of a six-hour opening for fishing.

“They open at six o’clock and close at 12. At five-to-six there’s fishermen sitting there with three or four or five nets, and as soon as it’s six o’clock they go out and set three or four nets, and then they fish right up until 12 o’clock. That’s not paying attention to (the salmon), and that’s not being considerate. They should be paying attention and just taking a very little amount, and letting the rest go and spawn.”

The 2012 Alaska harvest was estimated to be 28,531 chinook.

Many small, fly-in communities along the Alaskan section of the Yukon River depend on chinook for food through the winter.

The low salmon returns in recent years has been declared a disaster by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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