Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for January 3, 2014

‘We have been waiting for this moment for a long time’

They’re back, for the first time in more than 50 years.

By Chuck Tobin on January 3, 2014 at 3:25 pm

photo

Photo submitted

NEW BEGINNING – Two spawning chinook salmon were documented last August near this location on Fox Creek. They were the first chinook recorded in the creek since the 1950s (top). LARGE MALE – A large male chinook salmon, the third documented in Fox Creek last summer, was found dead on the creek bank. The male measured 72 centimetres (28 inches). Coralee JohnsPhotos courtesy TAAʼN KWACHAʼN COUNCIL

They’re back, for the first time in more than 50 years.

Local elders say the waters of Fox Creek used to run red during the annual summer migration of chinook salmon.

Then they disappeared, and nobody is quite sure how or why, says Coralee Johns, fish and wildlife steward for the Ta’an Kwach’an Council.

For the past seven years, a crew from the First Nation of the Lake Laberge area has undertaken intense restoration of Fox Creek.

Fallen trees and other obstacles to salmon migration have been removed. They’ve even dug a large diversion channel to avoid a bend in the creek where sloughing of the river bank was causing issues associated with excessive sedimentation.

It was in 2009 when the first salmon fry raised from eggs collected at the Whitehorse Fish Ladder were transplanted into Fox Creek.

“We had our five-year-olds come back this summer, three of them,” Johns explains during an interview after delivering the encouraging news last month at a meeting of the Yukon River Panel in Whitehorse.

“They were the first since the ’50s.”

Johns says it’s fulfilling to see their work bear fruit, but it’s amazing to see the return of the chinook after so many decades.

Her slice of good news for the international panel came as the panel’s time was largely taken up by
concerns over last summer’s poor return of chinook salmon, a return that some say could be the worst on record.

The Fox Creek project, Johns explains, stretches back to 2005, when the Ta’an Kwach’an undertook an exercise to identify which streams were candidates for salmon enhancement projects.

“We asked the elders, ‘where do you remember fish, salmon?’ and the elders said, ‘we were able to look over Fox Creek and see red.’”

Funding for the restoration work was provided by the river panel, the body which oversees management of the Yukon River salmon stocks under the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

The panel manages an annual fund of $1.2 million to support restoration and enhancement projects along the river drainage on both sides of the border.

Annual funding in various amounts for the Fox Creek project began in 2007, including $36,000 in 2013 and $27,000 the year before.

It’s also among the 33 proposals the river panel shortlisted at last month’s meeting for continued funding this year, along with several other Yukon projects.

The stabilization of the McIntyre Creek stream bank and the McIntyre Creek salmon incubation project are also on the list, as well as the Michie Creek salmon and habitat monitoring.

Johns said the crew from the Ta’an Kwach’an Council collected their first eggs and milk at the Whitehorse Fish Hatchery in 2008.

The eggs were incubated in the natural stream flow at the McIntyre Creek facility off Mountainview Drive, and were placed in Fox Creek in the summer of 2009.

Chinook fry incubated at the McIntyre Creek facility have been placed in Fox Creek every year since.

The numbers vary, depending on the strength of the chinook run, and the availability of males and females for milk and eggs at the fish ladder.

Last July, Johns and crew put more than 26,000 fry into the creek.

The fish and wildlife steward for Ta’an was out last August with summer student Shawna Tizya doing their regular survey of the creek – a 14-kilometre stretch from the mouth at Lake Laberge to the bridge over the Klondike Highway.

They saw two chinook, together. Their physical appearance indicated they were very near the end of their life cycle.

Quite likely, it was the female and male guarding the spot where they’d laid and fertilized the eggs, because that’s what they do, says Johns.

“It was pretty amazing,” she says, recalling the moment.

“There are no words because I mean, honestly, we have been waiting for this moment for a long time.”

A little while later, after documenting the location using a global positioning unit, Johns and Tizya came across a dead adult male chinook on the bank further upstream.

The next day, she returned with Trix Tanner, a biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans who helps oversee the restoration and enhancement work on the Canadian side of the border.

The pair of chinook was located near the same spot, but they’d drifted downstream and were belly-up in calm waters near a beaver dam.

Johns and Tanner cut open the female, and there just three eggs left in her. Similarly, the male’s milk sack was half-depleted.

“So we knew from opening them up, that they did spawn,” says Johns. “We had smiles from ear to ear.”

CommentsAdd a comment

Sam Fister

Jan 3, 2014 at 6:19 pm

There could be many more success stories. A few salmon back is just a start- self sustaining runs of hundreds of fish are required.
What is the answer? The dogma about the effectiveness of voluntary cutbacks has to be challenged and true catch numbers are required for the Alaskan subsistence and Canadian FN fisheries.

The Alaskan run size estimates need to be clarified. Are they close to accurate numbers or are they indexes.
Why is it that thousands of fish cannot be accounted for?
Where is DFO?

Fawn

Jan 3, 2014 at 7:53 pm

What exciting news!!

Frank Smith

Jan 4, 2014 at 4:53 pm

I want to see more examples of salmon runs re-establishing themselves in Yukon. What’s with a target of only 40,000-why not 60,000 or 80,000: why are they always going for a low target. Just put more fish on the grounds- let them recolonize areas and let’s see what happens. This would be the cheapest enhancement program, to allow more fish to spawn and rebuild the runs. All areas had far more salmon years ago than in recent years. FN traditional knowledge supports this.  And why did they let the bigger and older fish get fished out?

What has the salmon committee and panel really done to improve the low run situation. Millions of dollars and many meetings have not improved things, its gotten worse and the king runs may fail. DFO managers allow fisheries to occur when they know spawning targets will not achieved. They need to stop pandering and protect these fish. We need more people like Coralee Johns to make a difference.  Why do DFO and Alaskan managers get paid for not doing their jobs?

Alaska has taken a long time to offer any protection for our fish. Carl Sidney talks a good talk but how much enhancement does his community support. Why is there no sonar programs near Teslin telling us how many fish go into the Nisutlin and Wolf Rivers.

I am really disappointed that the situation has gotten this bad.

Stikine Bob

Jan 5, 2014 at 7:28 pm

I have seen salmon enhancement firsthand on the Stikine River.
It has occurred over a long period of time and 10’s of millions of dollars has gone into it. Funding was wasted in a major way because the people involved did not have the appropriate training, knowledge or experience. They just kept using different things and for the most part it’s failed.
There is a graveyard of expensive equipment which did not work.
Enhancing salmon runs requires a lot of thought. It sounds good but can be a waste of taxpayers money.

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