Some Yukon First Nations are asking citizens to limit the number of chinook salmon they take from the Yukon River, as so far the numbers are very low.
At an emergency community meeting in Carmacks Wednesday, Russell Blackjack, fish and wildlife technician for the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, painted a grim picture.
"To date there was only 7,000 fish that were counted and the numbers that we're supposed to have that come through at this time is 16,000," he said.
"To date, Dawson City has caught under 20 fish. Selkirk has also caught under 20 fish. So you see there's very, very little. We won't stop people from fishing. What we're asking is that people be careful."
Commercial and recreational fishing is already suspended. Blackjack said if the number of chinook salmon entering the Canadian side of the Yukon River doesn't meet 30,000, the fishery will be closed to everyone including First Nations.
"At the end of this first pulse if the fish is below 30,000, then it will fall into the red zone," said Blackjack. "Once it falls into the red zone, then this whole Yukon River will be closed to fishing for everybody."
Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation is urging its citizens to let the first pulse of fish pass — hoping at least some get to spawning grounds.
It won't stop people from fishing, but is pleading for citizens to limit their catch.
Elder Clyde Blackjack agreed preservation is important and said the community depends on fish.
"Just take what we need and then we're not taking too much, you know," he said.
Vera Charlie, a Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation member, also said they depend on the salmon.
"That's our main diet we get from the Yukon River and that helps our people that have high cholesterol and diabetes," she said.
Ed Schultz, another Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation member, said the pressure on the salmon population originates at sea and where the Yukon River flows through Alaska.
"And that's anywhere from drift net fishing to the pollock fishery to the commercial harvest in Alaska and the sports fishing in Alaska, as well as the degradation of habitat for spawning ground," he said.
In Dawson City, the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation is not limiting the chinook fishery, but it is reminding citizens about the low number of fish this summer.
Roberta Joseph, fish and wildlife co-ordinator for the First Nation, said this year is one of the poorest in history for the salmon.
"We've provided letters to all of our fishers asking them to take a conservative approach to their fishery," she said. "Many that have spoken to me have mentioned that they won't be fishing this year at all."