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Applause to those working to maintain Alaska’s salmon

  • Author: Gary Fandrei
    | Opinion
  • Updated: June 12, 2019
  • Published June 12, 2019

A king salmon that has returned to Ship Creek to spawn attempts to leap over a waterfall near the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery on Wednesday, July 17, 2013. Dozens of Chinook salmon in spawning colors can be seen holding in the flowing waters from viewing areas next to the hatchery. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Each year, a plethora of people offer opinions in the media and online critical of Alaska’s salmon fisheries. Unfortunately, some of these reports are based on old information, misguided ideas and unfulfilled expectations. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about our fisheries and their management. Salmon fisheries are an important part of our community and good management ensures we will have the opportunity to harvest this resource in the future. We need to acknowledge the importance of our salmon resource and not forget the dedicated people working to support the resource and its harvest.

Alaska’s salmon fisheries have drawn the interest of many organizations, from large federal and state government agencies to local governments and small nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations. All of these organizations play an important role in understanding Alaska’s salmon fisheries and are staffed by men and women working diligently to protect and provide Alaska’s salmon resource.

As a past executive director of Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, or CIAA, a nonprofit organization supporting the sustainable production of Cook Inlet’s salmon resource, I know the challenges of working with natural populations in a changing environment. CIAA operates three salmon hatcheries that provide fish for harvest in many areas throughout Cook Inlet. These areas include the popular red salmon currently returning to Resurrection Bay, as well as the red salmon that will return later this summer to China Poot and Tutka bays in lower Cook Inlet, and many of the silver salmon that will return to Resurrection Bay as summer ends.

In addition to hatchery programs, CIAA’s dedicated staff spends countless hours gathering information needed to support management decisions made by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Since the first of the year, staff has been repairing equipment, reviewing data and studying new methods and ideas in preparation for the coming field work on the salmon smolt migrations and summer adult returns. CIAA crews are already monitoring salmon smolt migrations from Bear, Kirschner, Hidden and Tustumena lakes. Later this summer, crews will be monitoring the adult returns at some of these same sites, in addition to others such as Delight Lake on the outer Kenai Peninsula coast.

People are always surprised to learn of the resources CIAA invests in habitat protection and restoration in support of wild runs. For example, since 1978, crews have been surveying streams in the Cook Inlet watershed for beaver dams obstructing upstream migration of returning salmon. In dams blocking the migration, temporary notches are made to allow the salmon to continue upstream to their spawning beds. CIAA has also prioritized work to eliminate or mitigate the harmful effects of invasive species, such as northern pike and the aquatic plant Elodea, on salmon populations and habitat. This summer crews are controlling and studying pike at several lakes in the Susitna River watershed, as well as working with other stakeholders to mitigate the impact of Elodea.

Each year, many women and men work to assure surplus salmon are available for harvest, and we look forward to the salmon return with expectations of a good harvest. However, we need to be aware that ecosystems change, the environment is not the same every year, and managers are constantly updating and using new information to predict the return. This changing environment challenges the staff of federal, state and local governments, as well as organizations like CIAA to, provide and protect Alaska’s fisheries for everyone’s benefit. I applaud the work, enthusiasm and dedication of the managers, scientists and support staff in maintaining healthy salmon fisheries for 2019 and future years.

Gary Fandrei worked with Cook Inlet salmon as a professional biologist for six years and served as the executive director of the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association from November 1996 through November 2018. The Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association works to maximize the value of Cook Inlet’s common property salmon resource through the use of science, education and technology.

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