Disagreement on management of Yukon River Chinook fishery
More than 70 First Nations and tribes discuss Chinook salmon in Yukon this week
Recent counts of chinook salmon in the Yukon River have been encouraging and some leaders of the First Nations that rely on them say it's time to increase the fishery for subsistence hunters.
Others say it's too soon.
The different opinions are sure to test the commitment to cooperation made by the 70 Canadian and Alaskan First Nations and tribes of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council as they meet in Carcross this week to discuss the fishery.
Delegates are trying to agree on management approaches to salmon that pass through different First Nations' traditional territories and past national boundaries as they migrate between Yukon and the Bering Sea.
Commercial fishing allowed in Alaska this year
This year the Alaska Department of Fish and Game briefly allowed commercial sales of chinook (known as king salmon in Alaska) for the first time since 2011. The department says it allowed the sales because the salmon runs were the best since 2005.
The move was strongly opposed by some Indigenous fishers from both US and Canada. As a result of that opposition, the department closed the commercial fishery only a few hours after opening it.
Several Alaskan tribes have also re-opened education camps and expanded the subsistence harvest this year in response to Chinook numbers.
That doesn't sit well with everyone.
Sarah James, a Gwich'in elder from Arctic Village in Alaska, says chinook numbers should be allowed to solidify for a few years before any increased harvest.
"The commercial (fishery) should wait until they know we are getting it back. For the subsistence hunters, they should only take what they need and not over-harvest," she said.
Accusations of over-fishing
Council chair, George Shepherd, has accused some Alaskans of over-fishing.
In an interview with CBC this week, he made some pointed remarks about some Alaskans' practices, but declined to single out any one village or tribe.
"You can't sit in front of a river and take all the fish before they get here. And that's exactly what they do. They sit in front of the river and take it all," he said.
Chinook runs in the Yukon River are still about half of their historic numbers. The lower numbers have been attributed to harvesting, man-made barriers such as Whitehorse's hydroelectric dam, climate change and the unintended catching of salmon my commercial fishing vessels harvesting other species in the Bering Sea.
'How many meals can you miss?'
Philip Titus of the Mayo Native Council in Alaska says people are hungry in Alaska.
He feels that recent chinook numbers would support an increased sustenance harvest and says voluntary restrictions cannot last forever.
"How many meals can you miss?" he asks. "People are skipping meals from not fishing. Basically that's what it means, if you have to eat food that's flown in, commercial store-bought food," he said.
Focus on water quality
While there is disagreement, members of the Inter-Tribal Watershed Council have pledged to avoid 'fish politics' and blaming one another.
The group is focusing on water quality as a rallying issue — hoping that a cleaner Yukon River could help salmon thrive.
"That is our vision for the next 50 years," said Shepherd. "Our motto is that you should be able to drink the water of the Yukon River."
Meetings continue this week and coincide with the 20th anniversary of the watershed council.
"They're concerned about the river just as much as we are." Report from the Carcross <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/salmon?src=hash">#salmon</a> summit. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Yukon?src=hash">#Yukon</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Alaska?src=hash">#Alaska</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Fisheries?src=hash">#Fisheries</a> <a href="https://t.co/5EK7M1T4uM">pic.twitter.com/5EK7M1T4uM</a>—@YukonPhilippe