Yukon Queen assessment to start in fall

More than 16,000 salmon fry are killed annually by the Yukon Queen II, according to a 2006 report commissioned by Holland America. By the end of September, another Holland America-commissioned report will show how many were killed this year.

More than 16,000 salmon fry are killed annually by the Yukon Queen II, according to a 2006 report commissioned by Holland America.

By the end of September, another Holland America-commissioned report will show how many were killed this year.

The boat is currently being examined by the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Board.

Due to a delayed submission from Holland America, the Yukon Queen II will not be evaluated until after the summer, says the board.

Initially aiming for a spring submission, the tour company decided to hold back until more data could be compiled on the vessel’s environmental impacts.

“We felt it was better to tackle those during our operating season when our vessel was in the water and we could do some more studies,” said Linda Huston, director of Holland America’s Southeast Alaska Operations.

“We want to make sure that we have a beefed-up study document,” she said.

The 16,000 salmon fry per year translates into 100 returning adult salmon, said Frank Quinn, area director of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The vessel also kills more than 120,000 juvenile whitefish.

The Yukon Queen II has already undergone a review by the Dawson office of the assessment board.

Citing a requirement for more information on the vessel’s environmental effects, the case was forwarded to the Board’s executive committee, which called for a revised proposal from Holland America.

The Yukon Queen II is an unprecedented case for the assessment board, since the vessel is already running.

“I can’t actually think of any projects we’ve assessed where the actual project itself is operating,” said Stephen Mills, one of the assessment board’s executive committee members.

From when it was first launched in 1999, the Yukon Queen operated relatively free of regulation.

Only when the vessel was found to be killing salmon fry did the Department of Fisheries and Oceans give the board a call.

Starting in 2007, Holland America has worked on a “mitigation plan” to scale down erosion and salmon deaths.

Minimum distances are kept from sensitive areas.

If the minimum distances can’t be kept, the crew slows down to an idle.

In July of last year, the vessel installed a digital mapping system to pinpoint vulnerable areas.

Results from the mitigation are still pending, said Huston.

While the vessel may be killing salmon, it’s nothing compared to the yearly average of 80,000 Chinook that are hauled up in the nets of Alaskan pollock fishers, noted Rod Taylor, president of the Yukon Tourism Association.

“Compare the effects of the Queen to the massive overharvesting occurring on the US side if you really want to give our salmon stocks a fighting chance of recovering,” he wrote in a September submission to the assessment board.

However, if the Yukon Queen II is barred from the river, Holland America’s business is compromised, say company representatives.

“It’s not a matter of just having that boat go away,” said Huston.

“If the boat goes away, our (Yukon) cruise tour patterns become significantly less viable … and that dictates what we are able to put towards tourism in the Yukon,” she said.

Traditional motorcoach tours are on their way out, says Holland America market research.

“People want to be on trains, planes, automobiles and boats,” said Huston.

And without a boat in Dawson, the Yukon becomes much harder to sell.

“We would not be going through this process and spending the money we’re spending … if the Yukon Queen II wasn’t absolutely integral to the Yukon,” said Huston.

The slowdowns have forced a revamp of the boat’s schedule.

“We embark and disembark guests quite a bit faster than we did in the past,” said Huston.

The shorter turnaround time in Eagle was “more of an issue” in 2008, she said.

Ever since the community was razed by a flood in early May, it now offers much less in the way of tourist attractions.

Eagle’s Front Street and Old Village areas were completely buried by car-sized slabs of ice.

Holland America docks, buildings and vehicles were also hit hard by the disaster.

Encroaching ice swamped the drydocked Queen.

“Had the vessel not been a boat, it would have been completely destroyed,” said Huston.

Due to the disaster, the Yukon Queen did not begin operations until last week.

Huston praised the city for a quick rebound.

“The Eagle Historical Society has been wonderful; they’re really stepping up and helping us give a good guest experience in Eagle despite the disaster area that’s there,” said Huston.

The town’s famous courthouse—located far from the riverfront—remains undamaged and open for tours.

Ten years ago, BC Ferries’ infamous “fast ferries” were forced to scale back their top speed of 37 knots after their wake was found to be causing damage to shorelines, docks and marinas.

A year earlier, a Washington state court had forced a high-speed ferry to reduce its speed from 34 knots to 22 knots until regulators could determine whether the boat was producing a damaging wake at full speed.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com

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