Recreational chinook salmon fishing restricted on most Yukon rivers

Weak chinook runs in the Yukon River and Alsek River watersheds have led to restrictions on fishing.

Weak chinook runs seen in Yukon River and Alsek River watersheds prompts action

An underwater camera at the Whitehorse fish ladder and hatchery captures chinook salmon passing through last July. (Yukon Energy)

There will not be a public chinook salmon fishery in the Yukon River watershed this year for almost the tenth year in a row.

Harvey Jessup, the chair of the Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee, said the number of chinook expected to reach their spawning grounds in the territory won't be enough to support fishing.

The sub-committee makes recommendations to the federal government and First Nations on the salmon fishery.

Jessup said First Nations have also been asking members to reduce or stop their harvest altogether.

He said 74,000 chinook that originated in Canada are estimated to have entered the Yukon River this year. 

That's far less than the runs of 150,000 to 175,000 salmon in the 1980s, said Jessup.

He said an agreement with the United States requires the Americans to let between 42,000 and 55,000 Canadian salmon reach Yukon.

The map shows the extent of the Yukon River chinook run, with some of the many tributaries along the way. ( Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee )

"All of our salmon have to get here through Alaska, the Alaskan government has done their fair share in management," said Jessup.

"But the reality is the fish are just not coming back."

Jessup noted salmon spend the majority of their lives in the ocean.

"There are kinds of issues we probably don't understand," he said.

'Similar story for sockeye'

The outlook is also weak for chinook salmon in the Alsek River watershed in southwest Yukon, said Aaron Foos, the senior biologist for the river with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The watershed includes the Klukshu River. It's historically a major source of salmon for members of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and a popular spot for recreational fishing.

Chinook salmon fry being released into Yukon's Fox Creek earlier this summer, as part of the Ta'an Kwach'an Council's restocking program. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Foos said the department is predicting about 700 chinook will reach the Klukshu. That's about half of the 10-year average, he said.

"Similar story for sockeye [salmon], we have a weak run forecast," said Foos.

"Our forecast for 2018 for the Klukshu run is around 6,500 sockeye and that compares to a 10-year average run size of around 14,000," he said.

Foos said at this point the public must release any chinook or sockeye they catch in the Alsek system, but that could change for sockeye if the run size grows.

The coho salmon runs from the beginning of September through October, and the run could be average this year, said Foos, meaning that fishery might open.

With files from Mike Rudyk and Mark Evans.