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Selkirk Nation Salmon Citizen Outreach and Communications Plan

Selkirk First Nation (SFN) citizens are actively fishing for Yukon River Chinook and are very traditional people. Engagement with the middle Yukon River and the Northern Tutchone First Nations is important and essential to get a full picture of the Canadian side of the Yukon River fishery. SFN leadership would like to work with agencies, other First Nations, and other stakeholders to support conservation and positively contribute to rebuilding Canadian-origin Yukon River and Pelly River stocks. Citizen outreach and communications is where it starts to ensure that the people along the river understand, are actively involved, and part of the solution. There are also advantages in supporting SFN in that they are connected to other actively fishing Northern Tutchone First Nations. The May Gathering is a pivotal annual meeting where the Northern Tutchone Governments discuss fish and wildlife. By SFN presenting strategic and well informed communications materials at the May Gathering serves to inform all middle river Yukon communities.

There is an increased interest by agencies, media and other stakeholders in the approach that SFN is taking to manage their Chinook and Fall Chum fisheries. It takes an incredible amount of effort and resources to keep citizens informed and often the external audiences and their interests are secondary. This SFN Salmon Citizen Outreach and Communications initiative will also create materials for external organizations to understand the SFN approach to salmon management, assessment and restoration.

As discussed youth will also be a target audience with some dedicated outreach and communications. This may take place with a presentation/workshop at Eliza Van Bibber school or dedicated materials. This is mainly a K-12 group. Many young people (teenagers and adults) are involved, helping at family fish camp but do not know the context around management.

Enhanced Education and Outreach – Salmonids in the Classroom

Can-nic-a-Nick Environmental Services and Fish on Yukon – Instruction and Outreach will coordinate the two components of the program, with Can-nic-a-Nick Environmental Services focusing on the technical/aquaculture components of the program (aquarium set-up & maintenance, permitting, incubation, egg takes, and fry release) with Fish on Yukon enhancing the classroom, public relations, partnership development, media relations and general communications components of the program.

This new approach to the delivery of the Salmonids in the Classroom through the two separate funding requests will allow Can-nic-a-Nick to focus on the essential tasks related to the aquarium/fish culture or technical aspects while Fish on Yukon will focus on enhancing the education and outreach. Through discussions with Can-nic-a-Nick, the maintenance, repair (i.e. chillers, tanks) and fish culture (obtaining eggs and milt) is often the priority throughout the school year and takes considerable effort and is prone to timing and logistical challenges. The challenges of combining the technical and educational aspects will be removed through this new approach. There is also value in a team approach to ensure that corporate knowledge on the program is not lost should there be turnover within the project.

The Enhanced Education and Outreach – Salmonids in the Classroom will be led and delivered by Fish on Yukon – Instruction and Outreach with support from the Pacific Region – SEP Unit of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The impetus for this project is driven by the concern that the Yukon public is losing their connection to Yukon salmon. In the absence of being able to fish for Canadian-origin Yukon River and Porcupine salmon (recreational and commercial) and drastic conservation (subsistence) amongst First Nations and rural Alaska and Yukon, there are limited opportunities to harvest and make a connection. In the absence of this connection there is a concern that they will no longer value and protect this resource.

Selkirk Nation Fall Chum Utilization Project

Selkirk First Nation (SFN) has had success in the development and implementation of their community based management plan regarding Pelly River Chinook salmon. In 2015 and 2016 SFN actively managed their fishery through establishing recommended allocations per fishing camp, making recommendations around net sizes and the live release of all females. SFN is a very traditional community that has an active and thriving fish camp culture. A recent study from a Minto Mine socio-economic report identified that SFN citizens heavily utilize the seasons by harvesting game throughout the year and approximately 80% still eat mainly country foods.

While SFN continues to fish for Pelly River Chinook salmon they have severely restricted harvest and are looking for other sources of traditional foods to supplement their diets and way of life. SFN harvests freshwater fish such as Grayling, Pike and Whitefish as a substitute for Chinook. Another species that can provide an opportunity for harvest and substitution is Fall Chum.

Fall Chum salmon are often still firm and edible for humans where they pass along the Yukon River near Minto Landing. SFN people have traditionally harvested Fall Chum salmon, however, not to the same extent and for the same purposes as Chinook salmon. Traditionally used for dog food, there are few people within SFN that actively harvest Fall Chum for human consumption. With the severe restrictions on Chinook salmon and the desire to conserve these stocks, SFN would like to explore a Fall Chum harvest and research ways that Chum salmon can become an important source of SFN traditional food.

 

Whitehorse Rapids Fishway Stewardship

This project provides a strong stewardship opportunity for its young employees and the various visitors to the Fishway. The stewardship portion of this project targets people of all ages who visit the fish ladder, but particular focus is on its employees, including local high school and university students. These employees develop a good understanding of the salmon life cycle, management and habitat as they monitor information from DFO and ADF&G to follow the passage of the salmon up the river, and work with hatchery staff to collect broodstock, look after salmon fry aquaria in the interpretive centre, communicate this information to fishway visitors daily and conduct stream walks at Wolf Creek to monitor adult returns. Fishway employees also learn about sampling techniques and salmon husbandry through assisting the Hatchery manager with egg takes and ASL sampling. The employees communicate their knowledge to a broad range of visitors to the ladder, including the hosted Open House in August during the primary run time, which fosters an appreciation for salmon and support for the management of the salmon and their habitat. Public recognition of the importance of this interpretation venue to the tourism sector of the Yukon also enhances the local support for stewardship of Yukon River salmon. Through this project the various visitors learn about the valuable resource that is present in the Yukon River drainage and the employees through their work experience learn valuable skills that can help them pursue a career in fish and wildlife interests.

Klondike River Chinook Salmon Stock Restoration Plan

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (TH) citizens are physically, culturally and spiritually connected to the Yukon River salmon fishery. This fishery has been a major contributor to the traditional economy since time immemorial and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, or people of the river, have historically focused salmon harvest at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers, or Tr’ochëk. As a primary stakeholder in subsistence and commercial salmon fisheries, TH has a vested interest in the health of salmon stocks found within their Traditional Territory. Klondike River Chinook salmon have faced declining populations for a number of decades and we have been involved with and have supported salmon restoration projects in our Traditional Territory. We hope that our continued and persistent involvement in restoration efforts will one day result in the return of healthy salmon stocks to this watershed.

The objective of this proposal is the development of a “Klondike River Chinook Salmon Stock Restoration Plan” which will, among other aspects, serve to compile all existing Chinook salmon restoration and enhancement (R&E) research projects that have occurred along the Klondike River since 1989. It is our intention to examine existing data with respect to water quality, water quantity/ flow rates, water temperature, juvenile rearing habitat, juvenile success rates (including juvenile assessments of outmigration timings and documented size data for juveniles (i.e. length/ weight), redds/ adult spawning areas, and adult spawning timing. A thorough examination of this data will ultimately identify any knowledge gaps that must be addressed prior to committing to and deciding upon the type of restoration project that will best suit conditions found on the Klondike River.

Once all information has been compiled and evaluated, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in will then move forward with a review of the evaluation and fully develop the Klondike River Restoration Plan. It is our desire to have the Klondike River Restoration Plan determine the optimum approach for stock restoration for the Chinook salmon on the Klondike River through the data compilation and analysis, current site analysis and insight gained from other on-going restoration research in the Yukon River watershed.

 

Takhini River Chinook Salmon Restoration Investigation

The productivity of Chinook salmon in the upper Yukon River has decreased from a high of 5 recruits per spawner in the 1980s to less than 1 recruit per spawner at current returns (JTC, 2016). This decrease has severely affected both the abundance of salmon runs as well as the lives of the people who depend on salmon for sustenance, cultural identity, and overall fishery opportunities.

The Takhini River has been identified as a possible location for restoration activities due to informal understanding of abundant and good quality spawning and rearing habitat. The river is also road accessible making any potential restoration efforts more cost-effective than comparable remote sites.

Historic observations and studies from the late 1950s to the early 2000s suggest that the Takhini River (Figure 1) supported a Chinook salmon run with approximately 1000 spawners observed annually (DFO Whitehorse: FISS Files). Local and Traditional Knowledge surveys confirm that this relatively accessible area provided for modest subsistence and recreational angling opportunities (DFO Whitehorse: Unpublished; EDI, 2005).

The Takhini River originates from Kusawa Lake flows and joins the Yukon River north of Whitehorse, just south of Lake Laberge. The two major tributaries flow into the Takhini between Kusawa Lake and the Yukon River: the Mendenhall River and the Ibex River. Surveys and stock assessment data for Chinook salmon in the Takhini River has been limited to radio tagging (2002 to 2004), broodstock observations (2000s) and periodic fish presence assessments for regulatory work. Chinook spawn in the mainstem Takhini mostly between the outlet of Kusawa Lake and the confluence of Mendenhall River. Spawning also occurs in the Ibex River (tributary to Takhini) and in a few locations in the mainstem Takhini River below the confluence of the Mendenhall River.

In keeping with the Yukon River Panel’s priorities to identify candidate stocks or systems for stock restoration, this project will develop a strong information base to determine if restoration efforts would benefit Takhini River stocks.

 

Assessing the fate of returning Upper Yukon River Chinook Salmon

Upper Yukon River Chinook Salmon populations (defined for the purpose of this study as fish that terminate in the mainstem Yukon River or its tributaries above the confluence with the Teslin River) have experienced similar declines to other Yukon River populations in recent years. Greater declines probably occurred much earlier in the past century. Historic reports from First Nations along with a biologist and RCMP officer indicate that ~10,000 Chinook Salmon were harvested annually in the M’Clintock River system (Cox 1997); however, returns counted at the Whitehorse Rapids Generating Facility (WRGF) fish ladder have averaged only ~1200 fish over the past 15 years, and no active fisheries are able to exploit the population.

The fate of many Chinook Salmon after they pass the fish ladder is unknown. Previous radio telemetry studies (Cleugh and Russel 1980; Matthews 1999) showed that 74% to 81% of these Chinook Salmon traveled to the M’Clintock/Michie system, though sample sizes were small. The majority are believed to spawn in Michie Creek, between Michie Lake and Byng Creek (de Graff 2015). Understanding whether Chinook Salmon spawn elsewhere in the M’Clintock River system will inform further efforts to recover the stock. Other spawning locations may represent genetically unique stocks that would benefit from restoration, or habitats that would benefit from improved access (e.g., log jam removal). Perhaps more importantly, the fate of the ~25% of Chinook Salmon that pass the WRGF fish ladder but do not terminate in the M’Clintock River system is unknown. These fish could spawn in unknown locations in the Southern Lakes or the mainstem Yukon River above the WRGF, or they may expire before reaching the spawning grounds. In either case, stock or habitat restoration actions could be identified that would benefit these depleted stocks, once their terminal location is known.

The role of the WRGF in limiting Chinook Salmon population recovery is largely unknown. Returns have oscillated considerably around a relatively stable mean since the dam and fish ladder were built in 1958 and 1959, respectively. Beginning with the first release of hatchery-reared fry in 1985, returns have been maintained in part by hatchery-origin fish, which represent ~50% of the return. Each year, ~1200 fish successfully pass via the fish ladder; however, the proportion that fail to pass the WRGF remains unknown. The first step is understanding whether passage failure is occurring at the WRGF and whether delays are rare and short or more severe.

This project has two primary goals. The first is to identify depleted stocks that are candidates for restoration, along with potential spawning restoration sites. Specific objectives for this proposal associated with this goal are to assess:

1) Where salmon spawn in the M’Clintock River system;
2) What other terminal locations exist above Lake Laberge aside from the Takhini River, Wolf Creek and the M’Clintock River;
3) Whether some fish that pass the WRGF fail to reach Marsh Lake (and to subsequently assess whether these fish spawn successfully in the mainstem Yukon River or experience pre-spawning mortality).

The second goal is to assess whether challenges associated with passage at the WRGF are limiting production of Upper Yukon River Chinook stocks. Specific objectives for this proposal associated with this goal are to assess:

4) What proportion of fish approaching the WRGF successfully pass it;
5) The extent to which fish are delayed at the WRGF before passing;
6) What proportion of fish return downstream after passing the WRGF.

 

Impacts to the Kluane Fall Chum Salmon Stock from a Major, Natural Hydrological Change

Between 10% and 15% of all Yukon River fall chum salmon (U.S.- and Canadian-origin) return to the Kluane River to spawn. About 25% of the fall chum salmon that come back to the Yukon River return to the Upper Yukon River in Canada (i.e., are Canadian-origin). Of these, nearly half (an average of 46 %) return to the White River (JTC, 2016) and the major spawning areas in this system are in the Kluane River and in Kluane Lake.

A major, natural hydrological change resulting from a glacial-shift in the St. Elias Mountians (headwater areas) has affected Kluane Lake and River with potentially significant consequences to the spawning habitat of this major population of Yukon River chum salmon.

With its source in the ice fields of the Saint Elias Mountains, the Kaskawulsh glacier sits on the drainage divide between the Alsek and Yukon drainage basins in south western Yukon (Figure 1). For the last 300 – 400 years, the Kaskawulsh glacier meltwater has drained into the Yukon River basin via the Slims River, to Kluane Lake, to Kluane River, and downstream to the White River (Figure 2). In the spring of 2016, meltwater from the Kaskawulsh glacier change from flowing primarily into the Slims River and the Yukon drainage to flowing primarily to the Kaskawulsh River in the Alsek drainage. Flow to the Slims River during 2016 has been minimal.

The Slims River is the major input to Kluane Lake and modern isotope hydrology confirmed that positive water balance is dependent on input from the Slims River (Brahney et al. 2010). This summer the lake level is one meter lower than in previous years.

The key chum salmon spawning areas potentially impacted are Kluane River from the Duke River fan approximately 20 km downstream (identified in yellow in Figure 2). Chum salmon spawn in Kluane River’s active stream channels and high densities of spawning adults have been observed at specific sites, in particular Swede Johnson slough – a significant spawning area first documented in the 1940s. This section of Kluane River will be referred to as Kluane River spawning grounds for the remainder of this proposal. There are also lake spawning chum salmon in Kluane Lake. The records of specific spawning locations are not well established.

Information on current habitat use, habitat requirements and suitability, and anticipating the changes to habitat and the chum salmon that rely on them will be key elements of understanding the impacts of the hydrological changes in the Kluane/White River system and will help managers to make informed decisions.

Yukon River In-Season Salmon Management Teleconferences

The goal of this program is to improve public awareness of fishing conditions and to foster community support for the management of Yukon River salmon. This is done on a weekly basis through the hosting of in-season salmon management teleconferences during the fishing season. The program has run consistently for the past 12 years, funded by the Yukon River Panel and the Fisheries Resource Monitoring Program. Participants on the call include Yukon River fishermen, community harvest surveyors, Tribal councils, First Nations, policy makers, non-governmental organizations and state and federal resource managers. The content of the call includes updates and reports from villages on fishing activities and environmental conditions as well as management reports on their fisheries assessments and strategies. Open discussion and question and answer periods take place following the reports. The calls are focused on in-season management and there are numerous questions posed from the fishermen to the managers. In recent years, with low Chinook salmon runs, it is critical to have this open dialogue that enables management to share weekly data on run counts, timing, gear restrictions etc. and for managers to hear from fishermen on their reports of what they are harvesting and seeing in the river. Management is complex and new fishing gear and many openings and closings in the different fishing districts have become common. This dialogue helps build community support because it is an open forum where the public gets to interact directly with resource managers and hear rationale for management decision-making. While not everyone agrees on fisheries management strategies this open forum helps to build an open dialogue and working relationship. It is also a place for fishermen to share their concerns directly with managers and they can ask for changes in fishing gear or hours of time allowed to fish. Outcomes from this program have included the development of a cadre of people from the Yukon River that communicate on a weekly basis about the Yukon River salmon runs, in-season, many of which are different than those that participate in other annual forums. The calls are a reliable, affordable and effective in-season communication that should continue in order to offer an opportunity for people from the Yukon River to participate in fisheries management discussions about the conservative management actions taking place in recent years. People who participate on the call are local leaders in various ways and they share the information on the calls with other community members. They also share their community concerns on the call thus actings as community liaisons during the fishing season. This is extremely helpful as the management agencies are only based in two locations during the fishing season and have limited time and ability to travel out to each and every community to meet firsthand with fishing families.

 

 

Development of a Genetic Baseline for Canadian-origin Yukon River Chinook and Chum Salmon

A genetics-based analysis can be used to identify to what river system, drainage, or sub-drainage a salmon is returning, long before the salmon actually reaches its spawning grounds. This type of analysis is generally referred to as genetic stock identification (GSI) and is used in both research and management. In the Yukon River, it is used to identify the stock of origin of salmon caught in commercial, subsistence, and test fisheries (e.g., Pilot Station or Eagle Sonar). This information on stock composition is used by fisheries managers to make in-season decisions and to reconstruct the run at the end of the season. It can also be used to understand where a juvenile salmon is from; this is particularly useful given that many juvenile salmon do not rear in their natal streams.

All of this analysis and its resultant information hinges on having a representative genetic baseline. This project aims to ensure that the genetic baseline used by researchers and managers is representative of Canadian-origin salmon. A good portion of the genetic baseline already exists thanks to the work on this project that has already taken place. The aim of this project is to gather genetic baseline samples from those areas and stocks that are currently un-represented or under-represented and, in this way, improve the accuracy of all the estimates developed using GSI. Canadian sampling efforts are focused on filling the baseline gaps by collecting tissues from poorly represented Canadian tributaries.