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.
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).
The Kwanlin Dün First Nation is keeping an eye on chinook salmon at the spawning grounds: A place where a 3,000km migration begins and ends.Philippe Morin visited the First Nation's salmon monitoring program on the McClintock river.
Michie Creek is a tributary of the M’Clintock River. It is estimated that roughly 35% of the Chinook Salmon that travel through the Whitehorse Fish Ladder end their journey at Michie Creek to spawn.
The Michie Creek spawning population represents one of the longest migrations of Chinook salmon in the Yukon Drainage Basin – over 3,000 kms and, it is upstream of the Whitehorse Rapids Dam. It is also a fish stock subject to the greatest risk of overharvest because it migrates through fisheries on both sides of the Canada/ U.S. border.
The Michie Creek Salmon and Habitat Monitoring Project maintains continued access for migrating Chinook to reach its primary spawning location on upper Michie Creek at the outlet of Michie Lake. For over a decade, many barriers had to be breached such as beaver dams and logjams for migrating salmon to reach their spawning grounds.
The spawning population is monitored each year by counting redds (salmon nests) and the number of adult spawners present at the site.
Hourly temperature and flow data have also been collected over the summer months for the duration of the project. This database represents one of the only Chinook spawning locations in the Yukon where this data has been documented over the long-term.