Takhini River Chinook Salmon Restoration Investigation

The productivity of Chinook salmon in the upper Yukon River has decreased from a high of 5 recruits per spawner in the 1980s to less than 1 recruit per spawner at current returns (JTC, 2016). This decrease has severely affected both the abundance of salmon runs as well as the lives of the people who depend on salmon for sustenance, cultural identity, and overall fishery opportunities.

The Takhini River has been identified as a possible location for restoration activities due to informal understanding of abundant and good quality spawning and rearing habitat. The river is also road accessible making any potential restoration efforts more cost-effective than comparable remote sites.

Historic observations and studies from the late 1950s to the early 2000s suggest that the Takhini River (Figure 1) supported a Chinook salmon run with approximately 1000 spawners observed annually (DFO Whitehorse: FISS Files). Local and Traditional Knowledge surveys confirm that this relatively accessible area provided for modest subsistence and recreational angling opportunities (DFO Whitehorse: Unpublished; EDI, 2005).

The Takhini River originates from Kusawa Lake flows and joins the Yukon River north of Whitehorse, just south of Lake Laberge. The two major tributaries flow into the Takhini between Kusawa Lake and the Yukon River: the Mendenhall River and the Ibex River. Surveys and stock assessment data for Chinook salmon in the Takhini River has been limited to radio tagging (2002 to 2004), broodstock observations (2000s) and periodic fish presence assessments for regulatory work. Chinook spawn in the mainstem Takhini mostly between the outlet of Kusawa Lake and the confluence of Mendenhall River. Spawning also occurs in the Ibex River (tributary to Takhini) and in a few locations in the mainstem Takhini River below the confluence of the Mendenhall River.

In keeping with the Yukon River Panel’s priorities to identify candidate stocks or systems for stock restoration, this project will develop a strong information base to determine if restoration efforts would benefit Takhini River stocks.