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Sonar replacing human fish counting in Yukon

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has put a new sonar station on the Porcupine River that might replace a fish counting weir at Fishing Branch.

New sonar station on Porcupine River downstream from fish counting weir at Fishing Branch

A fish counting weir on the Fishing Branch River, between Dawson City and Old Crow, Yukon will likely be replaced by sonar equipment.

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation recently placed a sonar station downstream along the Porcupine River.  

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has put a new sonar station on the Porcupine River upstream from a fish counting weir in Fishing Branch Park. Salmon spawn in the area and it's home to bears, moose and caribou. (CBC)

Steve Smith, chief of resource management with Fisheries and Oceans, said the sonar gives a more accurate count of the number of fish in the river system because it counts fish in most tributaries, not just the Fishing Branch.

"We can count the fish in order to provide for a first nation fishery and a weir that occurs somewhat after the fishery doesn't fulfill that need as well as a sonar might, which is downstream of the fishery before the fishery occurs."

The weir at Fishing Branch has operated since 1985. In addition to counting fish, biologists took fish samples at the site.

Both the sonar station and the human counting facility at the weir will operate, for now.

But Smith said the facility at Fishing Branch will eventually be replaced.

"The budget cuts have had no bearing on this project  … it’s just one that makes sense to us. Essentially what we would do is divert the funding that we are putting into the Fishing Branch weir into the sonar site," he said.

The sonar program is paid for under provisions of the Pacific Salmon Treaty Restoration and Enhancement Fund.

Smith said sonar provides a more accurate count of the number of fish in the river and having an accurate number helps the department meet its treaty obligation under the Vuntut Gwitchin final agreement.

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