Scientific Approach to Ugashik Salmon Returns


Some exciting research is going on right now at the Ugashik Lakes here in Bristol Bay, at least for us ‘fish people’! 

Through a combined effort of our CDQ, their ‘science arm’, a drifting fish marketing group, Pilot Point groups and some local residents up at the Ugashik Lakes, a sonar project to count salmon “yearlings” or smolt* is under way. This is just one of a number of tools that are used to make not only better forecasts of the returning salmon, but also help to better manage the entire system of salmon runs.
* Salmon life cycle

The state of Alaska used to do these types of projects on a regular basis but due to budget restraints they were cut a number of years ago. 

NOW I am sure many of you are hearing ‘sonar’ and thinking of all the issues that sonar  fish count caused on the Yukon last year BUT this is different. This sonar equipment is some of the newest and most sophisticated that can be used for this type of research. Also the conditions are much different than on the Yukon. One thing is the clarity of the water, almost crystal clear at the lakes, and none of the debris that the Yukon has make this different, along with other factors. 

This is a system of sonar ‘pods’ that are placed on the floor of the river, actually between where the lakes drain into a lagoon at the head of the river, that are linked to computers on shore to gather the data.

Now hang with me for a few more paragraphs and maybe you can see why we are so excited. 

This research, after a just a couple of years, will give biologists the ability to not only look at how many smolt come from the number of salmon that were allowed to ‘escape’ up the river, past the fishermen to spawn, but also how well the fish are doing when they return as full grown salmon. 

It can help us understand how our lake system is doing in providing a breeding and rearing ground for these young salmon. We might also be able to fine tune the numbers we harvest and that we allow to escape for spawning from the information gained. 

Sockeye salmon typically spawn in lakes and some of the side creeks that feed those lakes. They require, as do all fish, some environmental specifics, not only to hatch, but also to survive and grow the one to two years they spend in the lakes before heading out to sea. 

My understanding is that most often the Ugashik Lakes Sockeye spend two years in the two lakes that make up our system, thus leaving bigger, and hopefully healthier, to withstand the conditions they face in the ocean over the next 1-3 years before they return. 

If during this count, and hopefully there will be future counts, we see more fish leaving when they are only one year old we might well have to study what is specifically happening in our lakes to make them leave sooner than normal.

By knowing the number leaving, we can estimate their survivability in the ocean.  We will have a better idea how to insure sustainability if we know the ocean conditions as well as the genetics of all fish caught in bycatch, including the Chinooks. 

Please check back as I update you on what we are seeing this year as the first results come in from the counts. 

We need to also thank BBEDC’s fishing partners, BBSRI, the BB-RSDA, City of Pilot Point, Pilot Point Tribal Council and Mr and Mrs Robert Dreeszen.

~ Victoria Briggs


7 Responses to “Scientific Approach to Ugashik Salmon Returns”

  1. elsie09 Says:

    Wow, Victoria. That brings things into much clearer perspective. Love the photos as much as the description of the research itself. I look forward to seeing what else you can add to this later as new information becomes available.

    “Smolt”, huh? And, “Alevin”, and “Parr”? Cool!

  2. Man_from_Unk Says:

    I’m glad to hear that a CDQ program is involved. It’s about time.

  3. Man_from_Unk Says:

    This line from your article above has been bugging me for several days now: “The state of Alaska use to do these types of projects on a regular basis but due to budget restraints they were cut a number of years ago.”

    I have a really big problem with the lack of vision that seems to plague the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. I think the problem is that the department is employing second generation “Greenies” because they seem to be happy with letting Nature take it’s course.

    Either that or they tried to cash in on the CDQ Cash Cow by gobbling up as much funds for their “projects” when the flow was on strong. Once something is cut from a “budget”, it’s hard to slide it back in again.

  4. UgaVic Says:

    Man from Unk—
    It is really a case of budget cuts. I did some calling to our local biologist, whom I trust for straight up information, and he seems to remember it was arounnd 2002 that they were cut from the budget. My understanding is that the Gov did the axing not the department.

    IF I remember right this was on “Frank’s” watch and you can make the political judgements as to where he thought the seafood industry and any CDQ involvement ranked :-)

    I am not sure how the ‘Greenies’ might think that letting nature taking its ‘course’ but this is a case where we, humans, are trying to see that we do not mess with nature. Letting too manny fish escape to spawn can kill an entire river system and we have seen this happen. Also if our lakes are not able to support the fish that do escape we need to look at that.

    I BELIEVE we, as fishermen and biologists, have learned that trying to over manage a river system to produce “BIGGER” harvests is a total doomed effort given past efforts.

    What we MIGHT learn from the smolt study is that we need to watch our lake, for Sockeye, systems closer so we do not damage them given all the changes in the ocean and climate.

    Thanks for bringing this up as it is important and although people in the state might not be ‘involved’ in the fishing industry it DOES IMPACT all of us greatly. It is the largest employer in the state, is renewable and in my view has MUCH opportunity for growing to offer still more high paying jobs!!!

  5. Art Says:

    I agree that F&G has become too dependent on CDQ money for management projects in some areas of AYK. It’s certainly good that they (CDQ) can pony up some dough to help out, but I think it has made it easier for the Department to trim their budgets in response…and you’re right…once that get’s trimmed, it’s hard to get back.

  6. Elsie Says:

    Hey, Ugavic, what’s the latest on the 2010 salmon season there in your neck of the woods? Has it begun? Is it too soon? What’s going on?

  7. Man_from_Unk Says:

    Okay Art, I see someone else agrees with me on the F&G hand in the CDQ pie. This brings me to the other twist – the unethical influence and control that those CDQ funds have. The highest bidder gets the best attention wheither it’s right or wrong.

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