Traditional knowledge and community involvement are essential for managing chinook salmon, says a fish and wildlife officer with the Selkirk First Nation in Pelly Crossing, Yukon.

Last year, the First Nation began operating a sonar station, located about 20 kilometres upstream from the mouth of the Pelly River, to start counting spawning salmon.

Yukon River chinook salmon runs have dwindled in recent years, prompting fishing restrictions in Yukon and Alaska as well as the need for ways to protect fish numbers.

Eugene Alfred, fish and wildlife officer, says the First Nation continues to be more involved than ever in this process. He says community members are part of the discussions that lead to formal recommendations to the federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

Salmon drying

Salmon drying at a fish camp. Traditional Dooli Law calls for caring, sharing, teaching and respect for the land, all fish and wildlife and daily life in the community. (Selkirk First Nation)

"This is where we are seeing more and more community-based salmon management taking place," said Jesse Trerice, executive director of the sub-committee that helps manage the chinook salmon.

"The elders are being brought into these conversations, the youth are being brought into these conversations."

Last year, the Selkirk First Nation asked members to restrict their catch to 30 fish per camp, and to release all female fish.

Alfred says this year, the First Nation will operate the sonar site for a full season, from the beginning of July to mid-August.

He says it will share the data with the federal fisheries department and the Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee as well as their Alaskan counterparts. 

"It's something as a First Nations people, we try to look down the road," he said. "Everything we do is not about us today, it's about our future generations."

Pelly sonar station

An operator in the sonar counting station. (Selkirk First Nation)

Alfred says the Selkirk First Nation uses the traditional Dooli Law that requires caring, sharing, teaching and respect for the land, fish, wildlife and daily life in the community.

"You know, it's through our final [land claim and self-government] agreements, our settlements," he said.

"It does say we have the responsibility managing our own resources and we do have the right to take that lead in that area — and we are."