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.