AD Main Menu

Video: Researching Alaska salmon at Lake Iliamna

Yereth Rosen

The University of Washington’s Alaska Salmon Program dates back to the end of World War II. Since 1946, fisheries biologists from UW have been conducting on-site studies of rivers and streams in the Bristol Bay region, making it the oldest continuously running on-site salmon-research program in the world, according to the university. The program started with one permanent camp. It now has six -- two on Lake Iliamna, three in the Wood River system and one in Chignik.

Biologists and students from UW’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences man those camps in the summer to collect data on the huge Bristol Bay salmon runs, including:

• Counting young salmon and spawning adults;

• Documenting fish behavior;

• Measuring fish size, water temperature and lake levels;

• Sampling fish and the water in which they live;

• Studying brown bears and their consumption of salmon; and

• Monitoring climate changes.

“The work can be arduous, living conditions are often primitive and exposure to harsh environmental conditions is probable,” warns the school’s current solicitation for summer field research assistants. But rewards include close-up views of thousands of salmon moving upstream and the wild lands that surround the spawning grounds.

The field camps vary in size. The smallest accommodates three to five people; the largest can hold up to 20, according to Thomas Quinn, professor of aquatic and fisheries science at the University of Washington. There is some information that is collected through automated technology, but other information requires on-site work. Scientific tasks that can be done only at the sites include netting fish, to count juvenile salmon and other species; sampling fish for parasites and genetics; tagging fish; and sampling zooplankton that the salmon eat, said Quinn.

Contact Yereth Rosen at yereth(at)alaskadispatch.com