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 our Traditional Territory. Klondike River Chinook salmon have faced declining populations for a number of decades and it’s because of this decline that we have been involved with, and have supported salmon restoration projects in our Traditional Territory.
The proposed project provides an indicator of Chinook escapement which is important for a number of reasons. With TH becoming more actively involved in restoration, the long-term operation of this sonar is desirable for tracking changes in abundance in the future. The Klondike stock is also known to migrate relatively early at the mouth of the river and therefore, this makes them more vulnerable to harvest as many of the spawners move through the lower river prior to managers having strong confidence in escapement numbers.
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.
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.
Our goal is the development and maintenance of community capacity in the Dawson City region to protect, maintain and restore salmon stocks and habitats. Each year, two local high school students who have not participated in the project in past years are hired as Student Stewards. They work under the field supervision of an experienced elder and the technical guidance of a retired DFO biologist, and are provided with a wide range of hands-on training through participation in a variety of salmon and salmon habitat management and research activities. Proposed activities include the monitoring of 0+ Chinook salmon growth and habitat utilisation, ground water fed rearing channel habitat monitoring, riparian restoration principles, and ground truthing of placer maps. Depending on environmental conditions, 0+ Chinook fry salvage and access restoration may take place, and we may partner with DFO as we have in the past to conduct genetic analysis on some 0+ Chinook. The context of any activities undertaken will be explained to the Student Stewards so that they are given an opportunity not only to understand what they are doing, but why they are doing it.
At the end of the funded field work component of the project, the Student Stewards will demonstrate their acquired skills and knowledge to children and community members in a Public Involvement Day. Opportunities will be sought to increase the exposure of the project through the local media and in presentations to the public.
A lot more Chinook salmon will soon be raised at the McIntyre Creek Salmon Incubation Facility. The Whitehorse hatchery has seen $60,000 in upgrades as well as a new tank design which more closely mimics nature. Philippe Morin took a tour.More: www.cbc.ca/1.3633022
The McIntyre Creek Salmon Incubation Project (MCSIP) is a groundwater sourced, gravity-fed salmon incubation facility capable of rearing fish from egg-take through to tagged and release-ready stage. The facility has functioned for nearly 20 years, collecting salmon broodstock from the wild, fertilizating and incubating eggs, rearing and feeding juveniles, adipose fin clipping and inserting coded-wire tags (CWTs) in preparation for release into the wild. In previous years MCSIP has focused on enhancement and fostering of stewardship through the rearing and release of Yukon River Chinook salmon juveniles back into natal streams, as well as stock restoration of depopulated streams undergoing stock restoration. For example, Whitehorse Rapids Fishway eggs have primarily been used to re-stock Fox Creek as part of Ta’an Kwäch’än First Nation’s (TKFN) Fox Creek Salmon Stock Restoration Project. MCSIP provides facilities for the initial incubation of small numbers of other salmon eggs which are destined for classroom incubation projects as part of the Stream to Sea Program, and has served as a test site to refine the use of heath stack incubators and thermal marking units, which have been developed at the site.
MCSIP was initially founded as a stewardship and enhancement project, and continues to be a significant resource for Yukon River salmon. MCSIP focuses on two main target groups within the larger community; first nations interested in stock restoration of depopulated chinook salmon streams (e.g. TKFN), and students. Both elementary and Yukon College students use MCSIP as part of their educational experience. Renewable Resources Management 134: Introduction to Salmon Hatcheries and Related Fisheries Practices is a course developed with and for MCSIP. Yukon College students also provide paid labor and management of the day-to-day operation of the hatchery during the school year, providing even more practical training and responsibility. This hands-on experience has proven very valuable for student’s ongoing education and work careers.
This project, which has been running at this site since 2005 and funded by the Restoration and Enhancement Fund since 2011, operates a sonar station on the Big Salmon River using a long range dual frequency identification sonar (DIDSON) to enumerate the Chinook salmon escapement each year, and conducts spawning ground sampling to obtain biological information on the stock. The goal of the project is to provide a long term dataset for inter-annual stock strength, run timing, ASL composition, and annual escapement estimates (for the Big Salmon and the Yukon Rivers) in addition to verifying the accuracy of the genetic proportions from Eagle.
This project, which has been running since 2002, describes the stock composition of chum and Chinook salmon returning up the Yukon River to Canada. It estimates what proportion of these fish return to each of the genetically-identifiable stocks (by natal stream). Though monitoring of the aggregate is practical and the basis for much of the management, it is equally important to understand status and trends at the population level. Given the size of the Yukon River watershed and the climatic variation found within it, salmon populations within the watershed may experience significant differences.
The effectiveness of this project is closely tied to the development and refinement of the genetic baseline and the number of samples obtained from the Eagle Sonar Site. As more genetic samples are collected and analyzed from Eagle, the sampling error decreases and the estimates of stock compositions are made more reliable. There are two principal uses of the GSI information collected. The first is in assessing how genetic information compares to traditional stock assessment information. Fishery managers often rely on index stocks to understand both status and trends in particular populations or stocks, and for Yukon River salmon, many terminal escapement assessments are carried out each year (e.g., using sonars, aerial surveys, and counting weirs), which can be costly and logistically challenging, and typically assess only one population at a time. When combined with sonar counts, genetic proportion estimates can be expanded to provide escapement estimates for particular populations. The second is that the information in aggregate can be used to estimate the productivity of each population of Canadian-origin salmon. This type of information is critical to local management planning and is of great interest to First Nation governments and communities as they seek greater information on the fish that return to their traditional territory. Projects focused on stock restoration also need to understand which stocks are currently highly productive and which are not.
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.
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 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.