Category: 2022

Vuntut Gwitchin Young Fishers: studying energy flows in the Porcupine

The Vuntut Gwitchin Young Fishers is a local Canadian Stewardship project and a pilot project for what will hopefully become a long-term Stewardship Program for the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN). This project will be an ongoing collaboration between the Vuntut Gwitchin Government and the Chief Zzeh Gittlit School of Old Crow that will engage senior students in a collective fishery science project every year.  For this pilot project will have Young Fishers collecting, dissecting, examining, and documenting the stomach contents of predatory fish captured in Community Fisheries. Concurrently, we will seek to have the stomach contents analysed by genetic methods in a research laboratory. During this pilot stage the main source of samples will be the winter burbot fishery at the mouth of the Old Crow River. Opportunities to sample other fisheries will be taken if possible, in particular during a spring expedition to the headwaters at Whitestone Village. Juvenile Chinook, (fall) chum, and coho salmon will be the prey species and life stages of interest. The stomach contents will be a proxy for the energy flow through the ecosystems of the Porcupine River: essentially, which fish eats which other fish and how important are salmon species as prey.

An Integrated Run Abundance Projection Model for Canadian-origin Yukon River Chinook Salmon

We propose to develop a new statistical model to assist agencies responsible for managing the Canadian-origin Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) stock in meeting objectives outlined in the Yukon River Salmon Agreement. This new model will improve upon and seamlessly integrate existing preseason forecast and inseason run projection models within a unified Bayesian statistical framework. Our approach will use a process whereby preseason expectations of total run size can be updated in real-time based on available stock-specific information collected inseason. A Bayesian updating model, like the one we propose to develop, addresses the challenge management agencies face when deciding how and when to transition from making management decisions based on preseason information to decisions based on inseason information. By approaching this challenge though an integrated modeling framework, management agencies will benefit from inseason projections that are transparent, objective, reproducible, statistically defensible, and address uncertainty in ways that explicitly assist with fishery management decisions.

Nisutlin River instream incubation trial and aerial surveys

This project involves a combination of field work and assessments, aerial surveys, and office tasks to complete a small instream incubation trial in the mainstem of the Nisutlin River with the intent of gathering comparative data for Chinook egg survival in Deadman Creek, Morley River and other Yukon Chinook spawning areas. In recent years, Morley River has been used as a control for Chinook restoration in the Teslin River watershed (Deadman Creek). However, previous work done on the Nisutlin River has shown that it could potentially be a better control to compare to restoration efforts in the Teslin River watershed, and, more specifically, provide more appropriate comparisons for assessing the success of incubating activities in Deadman Creek. Results of this project (wild survival) will not only be useful for this project but will also fill a considerable data gap for Yukon River Chinook and will help to inform Chinook stock restoration projects elsewhere in the Yukon River watershed, particularly those involving instream incubation.

Takhini River Chinook Salmon Sonar Project

This project involves Chinook salmon enumeration on the Takhini River (Yukon River tributary) to monitor spawning escapement in the watershed. During 2017 and 2018, sonar enumeration of Chinook salmon was successfully completed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Whitehorse. It is proposed that the site used by DFO be utilized again to set up and run the sonar enumeration program through the 2022 Chinook salmon migration period and to set the stage for operation of the sonar in future years. The findings of this project will help to set the stage for stock restoration in the Takhini River watershed by providing accurate estimates of spawning escapement prior to the initiation of a well designed restoration project.

Pilot Station and Eagle Sonar summer season extension

The primary objective of this project is to increase the likelihood that the entire Chinook salmon run is fully estimated at both the Pilot Station and Eagle sonar projects, by beginning operations early enough to assess the front end of the run. Early project operations will improve the completeness and utility of information provided to U.S. and Canadian fisheries managers and researches tasked with endeavoring to achieve the objectives set forth in the Yukon River Salmon Agreement between the U.S. and Canada. The estimates from the extended period will be reported to fishery managers and stakeholders daily, archived in the Arctic- Yukon-Kuskokwim Database Management System (AYKDBMS), and included in the annual project report.

Pilot Station fall season extension

The primary objective of this project is to more completely assess the late portion of fall chum and coho salmon passage at the Pilot Station sonar project by extending field operations by a week. The daily estimates from the extended period will be reported to fishery managers daily, archived in the Arctic–Yukon–Kuskokwim Database Management System (AYKDBMS), and included in the annual project report.

Morley River Chinook Stock Restoration Research

This project involves a combination of field assessments and office-based tasks to set the stage for Chinook stock restoration on the Morley River, a tributary of Teslin Lake in the upper portion of the Teslin River watershed. Morley River is well known as a Chinook spawning stream and the stream continues to be used for spawning currently. The Deadman Creek Chinook stock restoration project has collected a considerable amount of information on Chinook spawning in Morley as this stream has served as a source of brood stock and a control stream for egg planting methods being used in Deadman Creek. From 2016 to 2019, both egg hatching and emergence success were high and provided strong confidence in the quality of the incubation conditions in Morley River, particularly the portion directly downstream of Morley Lake where this work has focused. The portion of the Morley River where this work was undertaken is located 1-2 km downstream of Morley Lake and therefore has very little fine sediment present and the stream remains open during the winter months due to the outflow of relatively warm water from the lake. Despite these highly suitable conditions for spawning, spawner returns to the watershed are far below historic levels based upon local/traditional knowledge and historical aerial survey data. Considering this collective information and the accessibility of the watershed, Morley River is an ideal location to conduct a stock restoration initiative. The current project is proposed to complete a watershed specific restoration plan for Morley River Chinook and to collect field data to inform the preparation of this plan.

Tatchun Creek Chinook Enumeration

Video enumeration of adult salmon migration is an accurate and precise method for estimation of both run timing and total escapement on smaller river systems. That aspect, combined with this project’s simple design and operation allows for establishment of affordable, long term enumeration programs. The Tatchun chinook run was surveyed regularly from 1970-2000 with a variety of aerial, foot, float and weir techniques.  Given the past data set and the contribution of this stock to the local stock grouping it could act as a proxy for other stocks in the area.  Establishment of an affordable, long term Tatchun chinook escapement survey would likely have great value for upper Yukon chinook stock assessment requirements.

This project will deploy a weir equipped with a video counter to record all adult salmon migrating into the Tatchun Creek from the mainstem Yukon River.

Klondike River Chinook Salmon Sonar Project

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.


Juvenile Chinook Salmon Outmigration at the Yukon River Mouth

Juvenile outmigration is an important life stage for Yukon River Chinook salmon. Recent research suggests that much of the variability in Chinook salmon production may occur prior to the first summer at sea (Howard et al. 2016, Murphy et al. 2017) and that larger fish with higher energy content at the end of their first marine summer had a greater chance of surviving to adulthood (Howard et al. 2016). Outmigration from the river to the marine environment is physiologically stressful. Larger in-river has been linked to both downstream survival (Zabel & Achord 2004) and adult returns (Zabel & Williams 2002, Woodson et al. 2013) in wild Chinook populations, and suggests that early growth in fresh water may be an important indicator of later growth (Ruggerone at al. 2009). This is consistent with an emerging idea that fish need to prepare themselves for life history transitions such as smolting or offshore migrations. This preparation is associated with increased energy reserves, which are maximized by increased size.

The objectives of this project are to quantify outmigration timing from ice out through the end of the August,  examine size (length and weight), growth, diet, energetic condition, and smolting stage of outmigrating juveniles in relation to environmental variables in the freshwater and nearshore marine environment, and to collect genetic samples to assess outmigrant origin.