Salmon outlook looks grim

Chinook counts are looking dismal this year at the mouth of the Yukon River. Early counts suggest that this could be the latest and the smallest run on record. "That's cause for concern, for sure," said Mary Ellen Jarvis with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Chinook counts are looking dismal this year at the mouth of the Yukon River.

Early counts suggest that this could be the latest and the smallest run on record.

“That’s cause for concern, for sure,” said Mary Ellen Jarvis with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

We still have to wait, however, to know exactly what these numbers will mean for the Yukon, said Jarvis.

When the fish reach the checkpoint at Eagle, Alaska, officials will have a better sense of how the resource will be managed, harvested and conserved.

“That’s really our big trigger, and that’s where we would be making our decisions.”

Representatives from dozens of communities along the Yukon River as well as officials from both sides of the border chimed in Tuesday for a two-hour-long conference call to give and receive updates on the fish situation.

Subsistence fishermen mostly reported high water levels and poor fishing. Some called for even more severe restrictions on fishing, and even a full closure on the Yukon River.

Carl Sidney called in from Burwash Landing. He is worried about the future of the fish.

“In about 10 years we’re not going to have nothing to talk about, if people don’t start taking drastic measures to let our salmon survive, because I don’t see it surviving any more than 10 more years.”

Steve Hayes with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported that as of June 25, 31,300 Chinook salmon had been counted at the Pilot Station sonar counter, about 200 kilometres upstream from the mouth of the Yukon River.

The average count for June 25 is 89,000 fish, or 49,100 in years when the run has been late.

This could be the latest run for chinook salmon on the Yukon River on record, Hayes said.

Alaska has imposed closures on subsistence fishing to help ensure that enough fish make it to the Canadian border. Roughly half of the chinook that enter the Yukon as part of the first pulse are of Canadian origin.

Alaskan officials have an obligation under the Yukon River Salmon Agreement to ensure that enough fish make it into Canada to meet escapement and spawning goals.

There is no penalty if they do not meet this obligation. But “they have certainly been paying more attention to it, considering that the fish are failing to return in numbers as would be forecast by escapement data,” said Jarvis.

Chinook salmon returns have been on the decline for about the past decade, but there’s “no real smoking gun” of what the cause might be, Jarvis said.

Environmental factors in the ocean and in the river could both contribute.

Communities along the Yukon River on this side of the border rely on the salmon for subsistence fishing, but in the past decade they have undertaken voluntary measures to reduce their harvest and protect the stock, Jarvis said.

The Yukon also has a handful of active domestic fishing permits, which allow families living a rural lifestyle to harvest about 25-30 fish annually to feed themselves.

Recreational catch-and-release of salmon is usually permitted in the Yukon River, except where voluntary closures in the aboriginal fishery could create conflict between subsistence fishermen and hobbyists.

No radical management decisions will be made in the Yukon yet, Jarvis said.

“I don’t at this point want to be too doom-and-gloom, because, again, it’s very early in the year. It’s a wait-and-see.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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

Just Posted

Benjamin Poudou, Mount MacIntyre’s ski club manager, poses for a photo in the club’s ski rental area on Nov. 16. The club has sold around 1,850 passes already this year, compared to 1067 passes on Oct. 31 last year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Early season ski pass sales up as Yukoners prepare for pandemic winter

Season passe sales at Mount McIntyre for cross-country skiing are up by around 60 per cent this year

The City of Whitehorse will be spending $655,000 to upgrade the waste heat recovery system at the Canada Games Centre. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New waste heat recovery system coming to the CGC

Council approves $655,000 project

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate education advocates and volunteers help to sort and distribute Christmas hamper grocery boxes outside Elijah Smith Elementary School on Feb. 23. (Rebecca Bradford Andrew/Submitted)
First Nation Education Directorate begins Christmas hamper program

Pick-ups for hampers are scheduled at local schools

Cyrine Candido, cashier, right, wipes down the new plexi-glass dividers at Superstore on March 28, before it was commonplace for them to wear masks. The Yukon government is relaunching the Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program as the second wave of COVID-19 begins to take place in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program extended to 32 weeks

More than 100 businesses in the territory applied for the first phase of the program

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Keith Lay speaks at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay provided the lone submission to council on the city’s proposed $33 million capital spending plan for 2021 on Nov. 23, taking issue with a number of projects outlined. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Resident raises issues with city’s capital budget

Council to vote on budget in December

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read