Five years ago, a Teslin Tlingit elder told the First Nation’s council that chinook salmon were in trouble.
The warning fell on deaf ears at the time, said Chief Eric Morris.
“For the last five years, she’s been trying to persuade people,” he said.
“Now we’re in a place where, if we had done something when she talked about it five years ago, we might not have found ourselves in this situation.”
For the second year in a row, the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans has closed the chinook salmon fisheries on the Yukon River.
Officials asked First Nations to cut subsistence fishing in half to 4,000 salmon from 8,000.
Last week, Fisheries and Oceans released dire numbers for the worst return on record of salmon coming up the Alsek River.
Only 34 chinook have been counted at a time when 500 is the norm.
Worse is the sockeye count: only three have been counted when 700 to 800 is common.
Sport fishing in the Alsek River closed today.
“We need to get every spawner onto the spawning grounds,” said Fisheries and Oceans area director Frank Quinn.
The Teslin Tlingit affirmed its commitment to salmon conservation and will adhere to the department’s reduction request.
The restriction leaves 450 fish for the First Nation.
Other First Nations have agreed to the new restrictions, while others, like the Ta’an Kwach’an, have decided to determine on their own how much to catch.
“We’ve haven’t been serious enough about the salmon (stocks),” said Morris.
Recently, the council announced it would stop granting moose hunting access permits on its settlement land.
Harvest counts have doubled over recent years and the First Nation is concerned about the impact on the moose population.
“There’s evidence of over harvesting, so we’ve begun to deny access,” said Morris.
The harvest has nearly doubled to 65 moose per 1,000 from 35.
It’s the first time the First Nation has restricted hunting access.
Teslin doesn’t charge for the permits, which have allowed the First Nation to closely monitor the moose population.
The area is a prime location for moose hunting.
“The success rate is pretty good,” said Morris.
“We want to implement controls to make sure the population isn’t affected.”
With the two announcements about resource management, the First Nation is indicating it’s taking on greater responsibility for wildlife management.
“Self-governing First Nations are approaching wildlife issues seriously,” said Morris.
Balancing conservation and economic concerns is difficult, but necessary to protect wildlife, said Morris.
For 12 years Teslin has enacted voluntary conservation methods to manage the salmon stock, including a 48-hour closure every week.
Teslin leaders and elders have met to discuss conservation issues and government restrictions.
“Some elders felt strongly about closing the fishery, and they are adamant about that,” said Morris.
Based on those sentiments, the First Nation might consider closing it next year.
But for that to happen, all First Nations would have to agree to a full closure, said Morris.
“It has to be done across the board, and that includes the US as well,” he said.
Five years ago, closing the First Nation fishery because of low numbers would have been considered laughable.
Now people are recalling the cod fishery collapse on the East Coast all too easily.
“We have to strive for a solution before the salmon get there,” said Morris.
“If it means a full closure, that’s something to consider.”
It’s not surprising an elder would have the foresight to warn of shrinking salmon numbers, said Morris.
“All those years of experience of looking at changes in the world adds up to a lot of wisdom,” he said.