Chinook salmon counts in 2022 saw a precipitous drop following alarming lows in the two previous years. From numbers in the last century in the range of 160,000 chinook, the last three years have been catastrophic, with only 30,000 coming across the border in 2021 and 2022. This year witnessed death knell numbers at 11,000, with only a bare 164 chinook salmon making it through the Whitehorse fish ladder.

At the post-season Yukon River Panel meeting in December, Don Toews called on the committee to recognize that the species is now “functionally extinct.” The reasons for the drop can be debated, but he says that that the reality is that the chinook are no longer able to fulfill their ecological function. That function is to bring nutrients from the Pacific Ocean back up the river and into the Yukon territory.

Now, Yukoners are seeing the disappearance of a way of life — family fish camps with children helping their parents and elders with the catching, skinning, drying and smoking of a winter’s food. These camps lined the Yukon River from Eagle to Teslin when the tributaries were filled so thick with salmon it was said you could cross the creeks on their backs.

Yukon First Nations, connected spiritually to the land and to the water, have been invoking ceremony to call back the salmon into the creeks and the lakes they once spawned in.

Toews insists that the chinook salmon, the strongest of the salmon species, need three or four life cycles to adapt genetically to climate-induced stressors in their environment, like warming waters and deteriorated spawning grounds. That means 20 years without harvesting.

Toews said the fish that made it through the fish ladder this year are the climate change survivors. They need to spawn, return to the ocean, grow strong again, swim, spawn and complete their life cycles to allow their biological adaption process to evolve and their species to survive.

By Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jan 05, 2023 at 11:26

This item reprinted with permission from   Yukon News   Whitehorse, Yukon

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