Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation councillor Darius Elias speaks in the community centre in Old Crow in 2016. Elias told the News that citizens have been raising concerns about commercial fisheries in Alaska and believe that salmon should be given more attention, perhaps equal to that of the Porcupine caribou herd. (Maura Forrest/Yukon News file)

‘Our people’s patience is running thin’: VGFN citizens concerned about low salmon count, councillor says

Darius Elias said meetings with Alaskan counterparts have been arranged this year

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation may double down on efforts to protect Porcupine River salmon, according to a councillor.

Citizens have been broaching concerns about commercial fisheries in Alaska, Darius Elias told the News, noting that they’ve snowballed since the First Nation’s last general assembly.

“It’s a huge gap and it’s a huge concern because they harvest over 250,000 salmon,” he said, referring to fall chum. “I’ll tell you the truth: Our people’s patience is running thin.”

Elias said restoration work has continued unabated, but that it could be all for nothing.

“We have spent millions of dollars over the years, whether it be in-stream incubation or whether it be the Fishing Branch weir or spawning areas,” he said. “The sentiment from the public and our people is we’re doing all this work and the major benefactor are the fishers in Alaska for our efforts.

“This is not a finger pointing exercise,” he continued, “because it’s an incredibly complex salmon matrix that we’re dealing with. We’re all in this together.”

Some citizens have said salmon should be given more attention, perhaps equal to that of the Porcupine caribou herd, said Elias, clarifying that the First Nation has yet to pass resolutions that would bring advocacy efforts into the same orbit.

The herd is vulnerable to an oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The program has been winding its way through environmental assessment processes. It’s faced stiff opposition from the Gwich’in Nation and non-governmental organizations. Some members of Congress have thrown their weight behind the plight of the Gwich’in. A bill that seeks to thwart the attempt by the Trump administration to develop the refuge passed the House of Representatives last year.

Elias said elders have stressed that traditional territory — 56 per cent of which is protected — be treated as one ecological unit. In other words, issues affecting the environment are interwoven.

“(Citizens) see a marked similarity between the Porcupine caribou herd issue,” he said. “We look at this as a healthy northern ecosystem. The salmon have to come to feed the water beetles, to feed the eagles, to feed the grizzlies, to feed the wolves and to feed the trees. That’s the way we’re looking at it as Vuntut Gwitchin.”

Elias called the trajectory of dwindling salmon numbers in the Porcupine River “devastating.”

“They’re going the wrong way,” he said. “As stewards, it’s our responsibility not to sit idly by and watch our ecosystem crash.”

The First Nation has a basic needs allocation in its final agreement. These harvests are constitutionally protected.

The first 750 chinook, 900 coho and 6,000 chum salmon are reserved for Vuntut Gwitchin.

But Elias said these numbers haven’t been reached in years, not even in 2008 when they were lowered.

“Since then, we’ve only met those escapement goals, I believe it’s 50 per cent of the time. Traditional knowledge from our community suggests we only fished one or two days and we had enough for the season, all species of salmon.”

Last month, experts from Alaska and the Yukon said fall chum numbers from the Fishing Branch, a tributary of the Porcupine River, fell below management and treaty goals.

Only 18,171 successfully made the journey in 2019. According to the treaty, there must be a minimum of 22,000.

Delegates from Vuntut Gwitchin are to meet with Alaskan counterparts in the spring, including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Elias said the department has agreed to travel to Old Crow. Officials with the department were not immediately available for comment.

Copies of Vuntut Gwitchin’s community-based salmon plan, which was inked in May, have been handed to Alaskan representatives, Elias said.

It has yet to be presented to representatives in Fort Yukon. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee have endorsed it, Elias said.

There are some contingency measures that could be pressed, according to the salmon plan, like six-inch nets to let bigger fish pass and releasing live females. Other things include installing sonar beneath Old Crow and incorporating traditional knowledge, Elias said.

Whether more should be done to protect salmon will be addressed during the international Gwich’in gathering on July 20, he said.

Contact Julien Gignac at


Just Posted

Whether the dust jacket of this historical novel is the Canadian version (left) or the American (right), the readable content within is the same. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: New novel a gripping account of the gold rush

Stampede: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike is an ‘enjoyable and readable’ account of history


Wyatt’s World for May 14, 2021.… Continue reading

Copies of the revised 2021-22 budget documents tabled in the legislature on May 14. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Liberals introduce new budget with universal dental and safe supply funding

The new items were added to secure the support of the NDP.

Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters on May 13. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Cap on rent increases will take effect May 15

The rollout of the policy is creating ‘chaos,’ says opposition

Yukon News file
A 21-year-old man is in custody after a stabbing in Porter Creek on May 14.
One man in hospital, another in custody, after alleged stabbing in Porter Creek

A police dog was used to track the suspect who was later arrested in a wooded area.

Safe at home office in Whitehorse on May 10, 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Federal government provides $1.6 million for Yukon anti-homelessness work

Projects including five mobile homes for small communities received funding.

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Neil Hartling, the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon president, left, said the new self-isolation guidelines for the Yukon are a ‘ray of hope’ for tourism operators. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Yukon tourism operators prepared for ‘very poor summer’ even with relaxed border rules

Toursim industry responds to new guidelines allowing fully vaccinated individuals to skip mandatory self-isolation.

A lawsuit has been filed detailing the resignation of a former Yukon government mine engineer. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A year after resigning, former chief mine engineer sues Yukon government

Paul Christman alleges a hostile work environment and circumvention of his authority led him to quit

Former Liberal MLA Pauline Frost speaks to reporters outside the courthouse on April 19. One of the voters accused of casting an invalid vote has been granted intervenor status in the lawsuit Frost filed last month. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Voters named in Pauline Frost election lawsuit ask to join court proceedings

The judge granted Christopher Schafer intervenor status

Most Read