Friday January 6, 2023

Pentiction Herald

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.

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