North

First Nation counts Yukon salmon at new sonar station

The Selkirk First Nation is operating a sonar fish counting station on the Pelly River, as a way to help better manage dwindling chinook salmon stocks. 'Obviously, our First Nation wants to continue to fish,' said Chief Kevin McGinty.

'Obviously, our First Nation wants to continue to fish,' says Selkirk First Nation chief

The sonar counting station is about 20 kilometres up the Pelly River. (Selkirk First Nation)

Yukon's Selkirk First Nation is operating a new sonar counting station on the Pelly River, in an effort to help manage chinook salmon stocks.

"Obviously, our First Nation wants to continue to fish, and they want to continue to be out on the land and be in our fish camps," said Selkirk chief Kevin McGinty.

The counting station is funded this year by the Yukon River Panel, but the Selkirk First Nation hopes it will continue for several more years. (Selkirk First Nation)

"I think this is a way for ourselves to ensure that we're not jeopardizing the fish population."

The sonar station, set up as a pilot project with financial help from the Yukon River Panel, is about 20 kilometres up from the mouth of the Pelly. It's able to count the number of passing fish. 

As of last week, 3,441 salmon had passed.

Chinook runs dwindling

The sonar station is one of just a few on the entire Yukon River system. There are two others in Canada, and two in Alaska (at the mouth of the Yukon River, and at Eagle, near Dawson City).

Yukon River chinook salmon runs have dwindled in recent years, prompting fishing restrictions on both sides of the border.

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

"Our people are heavily dependant on the salmon as a diet, and we brought in salmon — I think sockeye — from down south, and it wasn't the same," McGinty said.

"Over time, if you don't utilize and get out on the land, you know, when the salmon does return, there's not going to be people that go back out on the land. They're going to lose those values along the way."

The Yukon River Panel has agreed to fund the Pelly sonar station this year, but McGinty hopes it will continue for at least six years.

"We can look at a cycle, of the consistency of the numbers that we would get over the six years," he said.

"Obviously, you can't have one year of data and go on that, right?"

The First Nation says it will develop a management plan for Pelly River salmon, this fall and winter.  

The number of chinook salmon returning to the Yukon River system has dwindled in recent years, prompting fishing restrictions on both sides of the border. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

With files from Mike Rudyk

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