A chinook salmon at the fish ladder in Whitehorse on Aug. 12, 2019. The Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee is recommending Yukon First Nations take “additional measures” to conserve Chinook salmon as this year’s run on the Yukon River continues to prove disastrous. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee recommends First Nations take ‘additional measures’ to conserve Chinook

Recommendation comes as Chinook run on the Yukon River appears unlikely to meet spawning goals

The Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee is recommending Yukon First Nations take “additional measures” to conserve Chinook salmon as this year’s run on the Yukon River continues to prove disastrous.

As of Aug. 5, 25,706 Chinook had been counted by the Eagle sonar, located on the American side of the Alaska-Yukon border and the best indicator of how many salmon have entered Canadian waters.

That’s the lowest count to date since the Eagle sonar project was launched in 2005; the second-lowest cumulative count for Aug. 5 was in 2013, when 26,993 salmon were counted.

An international agreement between Canada and the U.S. aims to get a minimum of 42,500 Chinook to their Canadian spawning grounds, a goal that’s looking increasingly unlikely to be met. (The goal was not met last year, either.)

Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee chair Al von Finster said the committee sent out letters to Yukon First Nations that fish for Chinook on July 31, suggesting measures such as tending to nets closely and not leaving them in the water overnight so that large female fish, if caught, can be immediately released.

Other measures, he said, include reducing the size of nets, and, at worst, closing down fisheries altogether.

“On the basis of the information that’s been gathered for the last four days, we probably did the right thing,” he said in an Aug. 6 interview about the committee’s recommendation.

While the number of fish counted at Eagle daily increased slightly at the end of June, with about 1,200 Chinook passing through every day, that number has began to drop closer to 1,000 again, he said, suggesting that the run is starting to wind down.

“There is a slight possibility that the run could turn around, but every day, it becomes slighter and slighter,” he said.

“… “I would love to have five days of 5,000 salmon a day passing Eagle, but every day it becomes less and less likely.”

The News reached out to several First Nations for comment; none responded before press time.

High water levels, which are known to slow down fish and force them to use more energy as they fight against stronger currents, are persisting on the river.

“It’s been high all through,” von Finster said. “I came down from Dawson City on last Wednesday and the Stewart, the water was back in the trees. The Pelly was right up to the trees. The Yukon River at Carmacks, it was just about into the trees so it’s been like a flood all summer long.”

Fish are gradually making their way further into Yukon waters; as of Aug. 6, three Chinook had been counted at the Whitehorse fish ladder. Meanwhile, 3,619 Chinook were counted by the Pelly sonar, operated by Selkirk First Nation as of Aug 5. Recent counts for other sonar projects in the territory were not immediately available.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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