Climate change and low water sinks popular Yukon fishing derby

The Kluane Lake Fishing Derby won't happen this Canada Day weekend, because organizers say it's become too hard to launch a boat. The lake's water level has dropped significantly, since a retreating glacier stopped feeding the lake with melt water.

'It's part of our life here, I'm sorry to see it go' says local business owner

The Kluane Lake Fishing Derby had become very popular in recent years, with up to 200 people taking part. There won't be a derby this year. (Submitted by Grace Southwick)

A popular fishing derby on Yukon's Kluane Lake has been cancelled this year, because organizers say low water has made it too risky for people to launch their boats.

The lake level is unusually low this year, and scientists are blaming climate change and a retreating glacier that no longer feeds the big lake with meltwater.

It'll be the first Canada Day weekend in recent memory that there hasn't been a Kluane Lake Fishing Derby. 

Ryan Wirth of Whitehorse was a regular participant. He says it was always a great way to celebrate his birthday, on June 29.

Ryan Wirth of Whitehorse was a regular participant in the derby. This 28 lb. lake trout earned him fifth place one year. (Submitted by Ryan Wirth)

"This year, unfortunately, is my 40th birthday and I was so looking forward to spending it on Kluane Lake doing three days of fishing there," he said.

"I'm going to have to make other plans."

Derby organizers say the lower water has made the boat launch at Burwash Landing hard to navigate.

Jane Woolverton, president of the Kluane Lake Athletics Association which organizes the event, also says the other boat launches on the lake are not much better. She was worried about people damaging their boats. 

MLA blames gov't 'inaction'

The local MLA has even weighed in, saying it's the government's fault the event had to be cancelled. The Yukon Party's Wade Istchenko says the government should have dredged the Destruction Bay launch, to make it usable.

"As a result of inaction, a prominent organization will lose out on the annual revenue it generates from the derby and my riding will lose out on one of the biggest events of the year," Istchenko said in a statement.

The boat launch at Destruction Bay, seen earlier this year. Kluane MLA Wade Istchenko is blaming the government for not dredging the launch, to make it usuable. (Submitted by Wade Istchenko)

Co-organizer Grace Southwick agrees that the event is a big deal for the community. She says it grew from about 60 participants 13 years ago, to more than 200 in recent years. 

"We're a small community, so when you get 200 people here and they're buying gas and groceries and camping, RV sites ... so we really notice when we're not having it."

Loren Maluorno, owner of the Destruction Bay RV Lodge calls the cancellation "sad".

"It's part of our life here. I'm sorry to see it go," he said.

With files from Karen McColl and Paul Tukker