Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Heritage Sites

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Tr’ochëk: Salmon in Danger

Strips of filleted and cut salmon drying on racks.

Strips of filleted and cut salmon drying on racks.

Strips of filleted and cut salmon drying on racks.

Strips of filleted and cut salmon drying on racks.

People used dried salmon to feed themselves, their dogs and as an important trade item. Nonetheless, people could not always be certain of catching all the fish they needed and in some years the run was less abundant than others.

The size of the fish run is affected by various factors, both human and environmental. At the end of the 19th century, non-native fishers began competing for good fishing sites along the river. Large canneries set up at the mouth of the Yukon River early in the 20th century meant that a much larger number of fish were intercepted early in their migratory path. Large sled dog teams and the establishment of fur farming in the 1910s created a greater demand for salmon to feed dogs, mink and foxes. Over the years, there were more people – native and non-native – fishing on the river using more efficient methods such as fish wheels and gill nets, limiting the numbers of salmon that were able to escape and reproduce.

Even before these events, however, there are reports of times when there were very few fish. Extremely cold periods may have caused a drop in salmon numbers. High water levels and obstacles such as logjams make it harder for fish to swim upstream. Scientists also speculate that global warming may be affecting the migration with salmon bypassing the mouth of the Yukon to seek colder waters further up the north coast of Yukon and Alaska. During an unusually hot summer in 1998, the salmon run was so small – the lowest Chinook run since 1952 – that entire Alaskan communities needed emergency food supplies to get through the winter and feed their sled dogs.