Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation responds to 7-year moratorium on Yukon River Chinook salmon fishing

April 19, 2024
Old Crow, Yukon

On April 1, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game released an Agreement concerning Canadian-origin Yukon River Chinook salmon which included the immediate suspension of commercial, sport, domestic and personal use Chinook fisheries for one full life cycle through to 2030. This suspension includes subsistence fishing on the Yukon River and all its tributaries. The Council of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) supports this Chinook moratorium as a difficult but necessary sacrifice to make sure our grandchildren and their children will be able to fish Chinook.  

This Agreement was announced in advance of the Yukon River Panel’s Pre-Season Meeting in April 2024. The Yukon River Panel, a body with six representatives from Canada and six representatives from United States, makes recommendations to management entities on both sides of the border concerning the conservation and management of salmon originating in Canada. After several years of the Yukon River Panel being unable to reach consensus on a spawning objective for Canadian-origin Chinook salmon, this Agreement was finalized to address the long-term decline of Canadian origin Chinook salmon. This agreement sets an objective of ensuring 71,000 Chinook make it to the Canadian border on the Yukon River so that the decline of this stock is reversed. In 2024, 13,000 Chinook are forecasted to reach the Canadian border on the Yukon River. 

For thousands of years VGFN have stewarded and lived alongside the Chinook, fall chum, and coho salmon of the Porcupine River. These stocks remain essential to the physical, cultural, and spiritual survival, dignity, and well-being of our people. Our harvest rights, including basic needs allocations for Chinook, are guaranteed in our Final Agreement, which was signed over 30 years ago.  

Despite this guarantee, VGFN fishers have not been able to harvest to their basic needs allocation for years and the changing climate and decline of the salmon populations returning to spawn in the Porcupine river watershed threaten to render our treaty rights empty and meaningless for present and future generation of VGFN citizens. 

Unprecedented lows in the number of salmon reaching our community have led to self-imposed voluntary closures for a number of years. Last year Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation utilized tools within our Final and Self Government Agreements, as well as our duties and responsibilities under our Constitution, to close our rivers entirely to the use of  gillnets during both Chinook and chum runs. This restriction represented the greatest sacrifice to date by a Yukon First Nation, by restricting the fishing of all species including freshwater fish to ensure all salmon can pass, and demonstrates our commitment to the stewardship of our salmon in support of the protection of our communal treaty rights. 

For the 2024 season, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation will be holding a preseason community meeting at the Darius Elias Community Hall in Old Crow on April 29. This will be the opportunity for citizens to hear from salmon management agencies regarding the 2024 season and to plan a community response to these unprecedented declines in Chinook.


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