Asalmon swims through the Whitehorse fish ladder in 2016. Concerns are mounting on both sides of the Alaska-Yukon border that this year’s Yukon River Chinook salmon run will not see enough fish enter Canadian waters to meet either spawning or harvest goals. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Only 15,000 Yukon River Chinook counted entering Canada at run’s mid-point

“So this is a very scary time for us.”

Concerns are mounting on both sides of the Alaska-Yukon border that this year’s Yukon River Chinook salmon run will not see enough fish enter Canadian waters to meet either spawning or harvest goals.

Alaska officials painted a grim picture during an in-season international teleconference on July 28 — as of the day before, only 15,041 Chinook had been counted at the Eagle sonar, near the border, at the halfway point of the run.

The escapement goal this season, as it’s been for years now, is to get between 42,500 to 55,000 fish to their Canadian spawning grounds.

“Anyone can do the math on that — if you multiply (15,000) by two, we will not meet the lower end of the spawning escapement goal … not to mention the harvest share that we also need to provide to Canadian First Nation fishermen who also rely on these fish,” Holly Carroll, the summer season area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said on the call.

“So this is a very scary time for us.”

Alaska has closed fishing in its management district directly adjacent to Canada — District 5 — in an effort to get as many Chinook as possible across the border, forbidding the use of even small nets meant to catch other species of fish in order to eliminate the chance of incidental catches.

Should the efforts prove unsuccessful, it would be the second year in a row that the escapement and harvest allowance goals won’t be met. In 2019, 45,560 Chinook made it into Canada along the Yukon River, but, taking First Nations harvest and other causes of mortality into account, it was impossible that at least 42,500 made it to their spawning grounds.

Under international treaty, Alaska is supposed to ensure that its management practices get enough Chinook across the border both to meet escapement goals and to provide enough fish — 23 per cent of the run, minus the fish set aside for escapement — for Yukon First Nations to harvest.

While this year’s Chinook run had started off slowly, officials had been hopeful after a total of 160,000 fish were counted at the Pilot Station sonar, near the mouth of the Yukon River.

“Based on what we saw at Pilot, we were expecting Eagle to do better than it’s doing, so we’re a little surprised, but you know… it’s a disappointing season,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Gerald Maschmann said on the call.

Steve Smith, a manager with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said the department was anticipating taking a conservative approach to management but would be keeping a close eye on the numbers coming from Eagle. Although 15,000 fish at the midpoint of the run is “significantly less than the 10-year average,” he said that Canadian officials were “cognizant that the run has been anything but normal,” noting, among other things, the high water levels seen throughout the river this year that could be slowing the fish down.

“We’re obviously concerned about the numbers we’re seeing at Eagle but are eagerly looking for those numbers to climb in short order,” he said.

Department biologist Michal Folks told the conference that all three of the Yukon sonar stations that had counted Chinook so far this season are recording numbers “significantly lower” than usual for this time of year: as of July 26, the sonar on the Klondike River, operated by Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, had counted 270, while on average, it would have seen 1,900 pass by. The Pelly River sonar, operated by Selkirk First Nation, has seen an average of 4,001 fish by July 27; this year, it’s counted just more than 1,500. At Big Salmon, past years had seen 994 fish by July 25; in 2020, it’s counted 153.

In an interview, Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee executive director Elizabeth MacDonald said that while there was still hope, the current numbers are “very concerning.”

The entire run has been late this year, she noted, with, as Smith had mentioned, the fish having to fight through high water the entire migration.

“They’ve been fighting the extra current — it’s kind of like instead of taking a nice leisurely stroll up the hill, now you’ve got water pouring down it, rain hitting you in the face, it just makes it much more difficult so you expend more energy,” she explained, noting that Chinook don’t eat during migration and only have so much energy to spare.

The poor showing at Eagle so far could mean that the fish are taking it slow to conserve energy — or, that they’ve had to fight so hard against the water that they don’t have any left to make it there.

“Fingers crossed that we get a late showing of Chinook, and they have been late this year so there is some hope,” she said. “I’m just not overly optimistic given the high water.”

Contact Jackie Hong at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Yukon Budget 2.0

If the banks that finance the Yukon’s growing debt were the only… Continue reading

Yukon Supreme Court Chief Justice Suzanne Duncan dismissed an application on May 3 seeking more transparity on the territory’s state of emergency declaration. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Supreme Court rules confidential memo can’t be used in challenge of state of emergency

Court upholds cabinet confidentiality after request to use internal government memo as evidence.


Wyatt’s World for May 7, 2021.… Continue reading

Yukon Party MLAs Wade Istchenko and Stacey Hassard are facing criticism for crude text messages in a group chat. (Submitted)
First Nations leaders call for stricter punishment of Yukon Party MLAs

Queer Yukon has also criticized the two individuals involved in an inappropriate group chat

Fire chief Jason Everett (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City launches emergency alert system

The city is calling on residents and visitors to register for Whitehorse Alert

Two young orienteers reach their first checkpoint near Shipyards Park during a Yukon Orienteering Association sprint race May 5. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Orienteers were back in action for the season’s first race

The Yukon Orienteering Association began its 2021 season with a sprint race beginning at Shipyards.

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its May 3 meeting and the upcoming 20-minute makeover.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland met with MP Larry Bagnell and representatives from the Tourism Industry Association via Zoom on May 4. (Facebook)
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland met with MP Larry Bagnell and representatives from the Tourism Industry Association via Zoom on May 4. (Facebook)
Deputy Prime Minister talks tourism in “virtual visit” to the Yukon

Tourism operators discussed the budget with Freeland

Polarity Brewing is giving people extra incentive to get their COVID vaccine by offering a ‘free beer’ within 24 hours of their first shot. John Tonin/Yukon News
Polarity Brewing giving out ‘free’ beer with first COVID vaccination

Within 24 hours of receiving your first COVID-19 vaccine, Polarity Brewing will give you a beer.

A Yukon government sign is posted to one of the trees that have been brought down for the sewer project in Riverdale explaining the project. The area is set to be revegetated with grass when it is complete. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Planned stormsewer outfall will improve drainage on Selkirk Street

Resident raises concern over clearing as council considers agreement.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s baby bison, born April 22, mingles with the herd on April 29. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Yukon Wildlife Preserves welcomes two bison calves

A bison calf was the first 2021 baby born at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

A map provided by the Yukon government shows the location of unpermitted logging leading to a $2,500 fine. (Courtesy/Yukon government)
Man fined $2,500 for felling trees near Beaver Creek

The incident was investigated by natural resource officers and brought to court.

Most Read