Chinook salmon fishing on Yukon River closed again this year
'One elder said, 'yes, we are suffering, but the salmon are suffering also''
Yukon First Nations are being asked to forgo fishing for chinook salmon again this year, because of low numbers coming up the Yukon River.
High water in the river is also a factor.
The Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee, a non-government advisory body, made the recommendation on Monday.
"We've heard the cries throughout the Yukon River, right from the mouth, that people are sacrificing and the people are suffering — especially over in Alaska, because they depend on the fishery so much," said Carl Sidney, vice-chair of the committee.
"But one elder said, 'yes, we are suffering, but the salmon are suffering also.'"
The committee said pre-season forecasts and counts from the Pilot sonar station in Alaska suggest this year's chinook run will be near the low end of the annual escapement goal of 42,500 fish. That's the number that should be allowed to escape the fishery and spawn.
The committee made a similar recommendation last year. Annual escapement goals for Yukon river chinook have not been met for the last two years, according to the committee.
High water this year is also expected to play a role, making it harder for fish to reach their spawning grounds. Heavy winter snowfall means many communities in southern Yukon are now dealing with flooding.
Yukon River chinook runs have been in general decline in recent decades. The last few years have seen total annual runs averaging about 73,000 fish, compared to runs averaging around 158,000 in the 1990s.
Last year, the Whitehorse fish ladder saw the lowest number of chinook since 1977.
Alaska has also closed its chinook fisheries along the Yukon River this year, Sidney said.
He said Yukon First Nations typically abide by his committee's recommendations about the annual fishery.
Exceptions to the harvest ban should only be considered for "minimal ceremonial, and/or cultural harvest for communities," according to a news release from the committee.
With files from Gordon Loverin