Yukon First Nation 'devastated' by low salmon numbers, closes fishery

The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations in south-west Yukon say salmon runs are too low this year to take any fish.

Champagne and Aishihik First Nations say salmon runs too low this year to take any fish

The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations have declared an emergency closure on their chinook and sockeye salmon subsistence fishery. (Yukon Energy)

Members of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations are devastated over extremely low returning salmon numbers, says Chief Steve Smith.

First Nation citizens passed a resolution at their annual general meeting on July 22, calling for a emergency closure on fishing chinook and sockeye salmon.

The closure was implemented by the First Nation council and announced Tuesday.

The federal government has already closed the public chinook and sockeye fisheries in the area.

One of main sources of salmon for Champagne and Aishihik members is the Klukshu River in the southwestern corner of Yukon.

Steve Smith, chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, says the low salmon numbers are devastating to members. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says in an update that as of July 24, 299 chinook had arrived at Klukshu compared to an average of 648 in the past.

The department says that as of July 25, two sockeye had arrived at Klukshu compared to an average of 352 as of that date.

Smith said it's hard to put into words what this means to his citizens.

"For all of our memory we've gone to Klukshu to collect our summer fish and put up fish for the winter, we can't count the generations that have done that," he said.

The First Nations said in a news release that the emergency closure is for conservation for the duration of the 2018 season. It includes the Tatshenshini, Klukshu, Blanchard, and Takhanne rivers, and Village Creek. 

Members ask for salmon summit

The First Nations said the resolution adopted at the general assembly also calls for a salmon summit to be held.

Smith said the elders believe the low salmon runs are likely the result of climate change and aggressive fishing by Alaskans downriver.

There's hope that some Alaskans will participate in the summit to help improve conservation efforts, he said.

The Champagne and Aishihik annual salmon camp will still take place this month. Young people learn skills such as preparing and drying salmon at the event.

Smith said the fish will be brought up to Yukon from the Tahltan First Nation in northern B.C.

The Champagne and Aishihik declared a similar closure in 2008.

With files from Max Leighton