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Fishing Branch River Chum Habitat Assessment

The Fishing Branch River is a major spawning destination for Porcupine River chum salmon. Past R&E work has indicated that in excess of 65% of chum salmon in the upper Porcupine River have been known to spawn in the upper reaches of the river, above the site of the DFO enumeration weir. The 2011 Integrated Fisheries Management Plan developed by DFO and the Yukon River Panel included an escapement goal of 20,000 to 49,000 chum salmon at the Fishing Branch weir. However, since 2006, counts at the weir have been displaying a downward trend and fallen within the lower end of, or below this range during the last several years. In addition, recent chum salmon returns at the Fishing Branch weir have been lower relative to Yukon River border escapement than historical returns, despite active in-season harvest management.

The overall objective of this project is to collect baseline information on chum salmon spawning ecology in the Fishing Branch which may help to explain the decline in the stock and/or inform potential restoration activities for chum in the watershed.



Porcupine River Chum Salmon Restoration Incubation and Rearing Pilot Project

The Fishing Branch River is a historically and culturally rich area considered sacred to the Vuntuut Gwitch’in people. The area is also recognized as the principle spawning area for Canadian-origin chum salmon within the Porcupine River watershed. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has operated a chum salmon enumeration weir on the Fishing Branch River from 1971 to 2012 and again in 2015. The abundance of Chum salmon, based on counts at the Fishing Branch weir, has steadily declined since 2006 and has consistently failed to meet the lower end (and now below) the interim escapement goal of 22,000 to 49,000.

In 2013, the Vuntut Gwitch’in Government (VGG) undertook habitat assessment investigations in an effort to better understand potential limits to chum salmon production in the Fishing Branch River. Habitat conditions for chum salmon spawning and egg incubation were evaluated in a study area approximately 5 km downstream of the weir to the upstream end of the continuous wetted river channel, and it was concluded that the current fish habitat, hydrologic and geomorphological conditions in the Fishing Branch River study area were well suited to successful chum salmon spawning, egg incubation and rearing of fry. Furthermore, none of the parameters evaluated indicate that changes to habitat in the Fishing Branch River study area can be attributed to the decline in the abundance of chum salmon, as compared to past observations at the Fishing Branch weir site.

In consideration of the cultural importance – both as a food source and as a component of a traditional lifestyle – of chum salmon to Vuntut Gwitch’in citizens, and in light of current Yukon River Panel Near Term Restoration Priorities, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and VGG are partnering to build on the Fishing Branch River assessment work to date in furthering investigations to identify limits to productivity while also exploring potential stock restoration strategies.

The long term goal of the project is to contribute to the growing body of work on Porcupine River origin chum salmon through a mark/recovery program to better understand factors contributing to the downward trend in stock abundance while maintaining a wild spawning population in the Fishing Branch River – an area generally well suited for spawning, successful incubation/overwintering, alevin development and fry rearing.

The short term goal is to implement a trial egg take /incubation/rearing program to raise and mark 20,000 Porcupine chum salmon fry for outplant and subsequent monitoring and assessment.


Yukon River Panel Press Release for April 2017

The Yukon River Panel held their 2017 Pre-Season Meeting in Whitehorse, Yukon between April 3rd and April 5th, 2017.  Highlights of the meeting may be found in the Press Release. Meeting minutes are under development and will be made available in due course.

Ta’an Kwäch’än Family Fish Camp

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Yukon River Salmon are highly valued by Yukon First Nation people as part of a healthy heritage, culture,environment and way of life. Chinook salmon (gyu – Southern Tutchone) is an important component of identity and figures prominently in stories, history, diet, traditional activities and conservation efforts. Educating citizens about selective fishing encourages people to continue fishing, while addressing conservation concerns and promoting a viable First nations fishery.

TKC is an urban based First Nation with a demonstrated need for structured programs, such as family fish camp, to teach the younger generation traditional ways in a modern context, in an environment where Elders, youth and families share time and learn cooperatively from one another.

In order to meet with TKC’s mission and vision statements for the “preservation, balance, and harmony of our traditional territory” and to “honor, respect, protect and care for our environment, people, economy and traditional culture as practiced by our elders” the family fish camps are vital in order to fulfill this need.

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Fish Youth Camp

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First Fish Camp is hosted by Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in for youth and families. It is a way for people to learn about the heritage and traditions of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, as well as the importance of the river and modern day environmental pressures on this important part of the culture. It is an opportunity for the community to have fellowship with one another; families, youth and Elders.


Yukon River Educational Exchange – Salmon Know No Borders

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An educational exchange is a powerful, intensive approach to transferring knowledge and transforming perceptions. Participants have the opportunity to witness, question, and interact with the subject matter first hand, which can foster much deeper understanding than other forms of communication typically provide. As such, the Yukon River Educational Exchange Program is a sound way for fishers and other fisheries stakeholders from the U.S. and Canada to come together to learn about the international agreement, to appreciate the different salmon resource users, and to increase awareness of fishery-related issues.

U.S. and Canadian users of the salmon resource are participants in a world of interdependence. Understanding differences in culture, lifestyle, and opinion proves to strengthen one’s ability to think and act on a cooperative basis. Therefore, a key priority of this project is to enhance contact between upriver and downriver fishers, as one becomes the exchange participant and the other the host community member.

Participants in the Yukon River Educational Exchange are challenged to learn by pursuing issues of interest and concern, to research through observation and personal experience, and to document their experience for further transfer of knowledge with their home communities. The exchange also takes advantage of the participants’ differences in age, motivation, cultural background, and past fisheries experience. The most effective exchange experience requires participants be immersed in the host community to develop and nurture a holistic and mutual view of life on the Yukon River.


Porcupine River Chum Sonar Report

Salmon migrating up the Porcupine River through the Traditional Territory of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) are culturally important to VGFN citizens. Old Crow, the only Canadian community on the Porcupine River, relies on the salmon fishery as a source of traditional food. The subsistence harvest of salmon on the Porcupine River is an important component of local people’s diets.

Three salmon species spawn in the Canadian portion of the Porcupine River: Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), chum (Oncorhynchus keta) and coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch). Chinook and chum salmon are managed jointly through the Yukon River Panel’s Joint Technical Committee (JTC) process; there is currently no joint management process for coho salmon. The Yukon River Panel was established to manage “transboundary” salmon stocks (which move through waters subject to both U.S. and Canadian fisheries management processes) in a cooperative forum.

This project focused on the chum salmon run, which passes Old Crow in late summer. A former DFO enumeration weir on the Fishing Branch River (a tributary to the Porcupine River) historically recorded annual passage rates between approximately 5,057 and 186,000 fall chum, with an average annual return of approximately 44,000 (during the period of 1998 to 2011; JTC 2012). Genetic sampling of fall chum salmon at the Pilot Station sonar (in Alaska) provides broad scale information on the chum run in the entire Yukon River; since 1995 fall chum salmon counted at the Fishing Branch River weir have accounted for 4% of the total Yukon River fall chum salmon run (JTC 2012)

The Vuntut Gwitch’in Government (VGG) is committed to improving in-season enumeration and management capacity for fall chum salmon in the Porcupine River. In order to provide an accurate and timely in-season estimate of adult fall chum salmon passage at Old Crow, VGG has pursued the development of a sonar enumeration program.  The goals of this program were to:

  • Enumerate passing fall chum salmon;
  • Conduct test netting (using drift nets) to apportion the sonar counts;
  • Develop local capacity to conduct fisheries work within the community of Old Crow.


Rampart Rapids Full Season Video Monitoring

Video source: YouTube (Stan Zuray)

Monitoring of Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) passage in the middle Yukon River began in 1999 at Rampart Rapids 730 miles upstream from the Yukon River mouth. Before this time, there were no U.S. run assessment projects for mainstem Yukon River Chinook salmon above Pilot Station, 122 miles from the mouth to the U.S./Canada Border. This unmonitored area covered over 1,000 miles. Numerous subsistence and commercial fishermen harvest salmon along this section of river. In 1999 daily subsistence fish wheel Chinook salmon catch–per-unit-effort (CPUE) was supplied to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) by satellite phone from the Rapids. Chum salmon (O. keta) monitoring began in 1996 with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as part of a mark-recapture project. From 2000 to present, daily catch rates of Chinook and chum salmon, sheefish (Stenodus leucichthys), humpback whitefish (Coregonus pidschian), broad whitefish (C. nasus), and cisco species (C. laurettae and C. sardinella) were reported. Data on Chinook salmon and the numerous other fish species that are important subsistence resources caught at Rapids will help build a long-term population trend database that will increase in value as the project continues. The Restoration and Enhancement Fund directed by the Yukon River Panel has been the major source of funding for this project over the years.

The project site at the Rapids has probably been a subsistence fish wheel site since fish wheels came to the Yukon around 1900. The particular bend in the river where this site is located has always been well known for its ability to consistently produce good catches of fish, Chinook as well as chum salmon, whether the water was high or low. Because of the unique currents in the Rapids, fish wheels are capable of being run there even during the spring drift that happens at the same time as the Chinook salmon run. Traditionally, people would travel to the Rapids area to spend their summers because of these qualities. Even today it is one of the most densely populated active fish camp areas on the Yukon River.

Video source: YouTube (Stan Zuray)

Fish wheels are a common capture method for management and research activities in the Yukon River drainage. Specifically, fish wheels have provided CPUE data at various locations to fishery managers. Also, fish wheels are used to capture and hold fish for tagging studies. Most of these fish wheels use live boxes to hold fish until the researchers or contractors process and release them, and crowding and holding times greater than four hours is common. A growing body of data suggests delayed mortality and reduced traveling rates are associated with holding, crowding, and/or repeated re-capture (Bromaghin and Underwood 2003, 2004; Bromaghin et al. 2004; Underwood et al. 2004). The video capture techniques developed and used by this project have less of an impact when counting fish.


Mainstem Teslin River Sonar Project

The Yukon River system encompasses a drainage area of approximately 854,000 km2 and contributes to important aboriginal, subsistence and commercial fisheries in the U.S. and Canada. Approximately 50% of Chinook salmon entering the Yukon River from the Bering Sea is typically destined for spawning grounds in Canada (Eiler et al. 2004, 2006). Chinook salmon that spawn in Canada have contributed up to 67% of the total U.S. commercial and subsistence fisheries in the Yukon River system (Templin et al. 2005; cited in Daum and Flannery 2009) .

Canadian and U.S. fishery managers of the Yukon River Joint Technical Committee (JTC) as well as members of the Yukon River Panel (YRP) recognize that obtaining accurate estimates of abundance is required for the management of Yukon River Chinook stocks. Quantified Chinook escapements along with biological information are important for post-season run reconstruction, pre-season run forecasts and the establishment of biologically based escapement goals. In addition, the accurate enumeration of genetically distinct stocks, coupled with a representative genetic stock identification (GSI) sampling program can be used to obtain independent above border as well as stock specific Chinook escapement estimates1 .

The Teslin River system has been identified as a potential Conservation Unit under the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Wild Salmon Policy (DFO 2007). One of the long term goals of the Wild Salmon Policy is the establishment of biologically based escapement goals for all species of salmon within designated conservation units. A sufficiently long time series data set of salmon escapements coupled with stock recruitment modelling is the primary method for the establishment of biologically based escapement goals. Currently, there is no other in-season monitoring specific to Teslin River Chinook. Based on current data the Teslin system is the largest single tributary contributor to upper Yukon River Chinook production.

Teslin River origin Chinook have been an important contributor to aboriginal fisheries in the upper Yukon watershed and are of particular importance to the Teslin Tlingit First Nation. Monitoring of Teslin River Chinook will assist in achieving long term management and escapement objectives for the Teslin Tlingit Council (TTC). Of the five species of salmon entering the Yukon River, adult Chinook salmon travel the farthest upstream and have been documented at the furthest headwaters of the Teslin system in the McNeil River, 3,300 km from the river mouth (Mercer & Eiler 2004).