It’s pretty well established that Alaska has more rivers and streams than any other state in the United States — which is hardly surprising, since it’s the largest state. Exactly how many of those rivers and streams host anadromous fish, though, is still a mystery.
Anadromous fish are those that spend part of their life at sea and part in freshwater, like salmon. Trout Unlimited and the Kenai Watershed Forum are trying to solve a little more of that mystery this summer.
They’re looking for volunteers who are willing to get a little cold and damp to identify and document all the species they can find in some Kenai Peninsula streams this year, starting with a training scheduled for June 5.
Dave Atcheson, who is coordinating the project for the Kenai Peninsula’s Trout Unlimited chapter, said the project has been growing for a while.
“It’s been a project that a lot of groups have kind of worked on over the years, and folks that want to conserve our fisheries want to document those," he said. "It’s a good idea for the scientists to know to document what kinds of fish are in each water body. It will help expand our knowledge of what streams actually have anadromous fish in them.”
Trout Unlimited is a national conservation organization made up mostly of freshwater sportfishermen, with chapters all over the country, including on the Kenai Peninsula. Atcheson said the local chapter had been looking for a project for some time, and one of the board members several years ago suggested this one. The local chapter received a grant from the national organization last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into it and they postponed the effort to this year.
That lined up nicely with the Kenai Watershed Forum, which was planning similar work. Atcheson said they will partner this year to avoid duplicating effort.
“Our initial grant, we were like 35 streams," he said. "We said we wanted to document in different watersheds, which is really ambitious, so that may be more like a five year goal. If we get six to ten this year, we’ll be happy.”
The Kenai Watershed Forum is training Trout Unlimited on fish identification for the project next week. The organization is also doing its own work to beef up the Anadromous Waters Catalog, through a state grant.
Branden Bornemann is executive director for the forum. (And just a note, he’s also on KDLL’s board of directors.)
“Fifteen years ago, we were able to look at a map and you have hundreds of streams that seemed like they weren’t documented that had potential for fish," Bornemann said. "You could generally access a number of those streams, maybe a handful on a daytrip.”
Now, a lot of those easier-to-reach spots have already been documented.
“The places that need protection now are the places that are hard to get to," Bornemann said.
He said getting protection for salmon habitats is critically important. Streams in the state’s Anadromous Waters Catalog are protected by law in the State of Alaska.
He said the organization recently called upon those protections when a landowner who wasn’t aware of local regulations took a backhoe to an anadromous stream.
“If that stream that that person was working in wasn’t documented, there would have been no repercussions," Bornemann said. "There would have been nothing to prevent that, if you will.”
Atcheson said the training scheduled for June 5 is open to anyone who’d like to participate. Volunteers will be trained on how to identify species and how to document them, with the goal of doing the main sampling this fall. He said the group is primarily targeting some streams north of Kenai, including some really remote ones.
He said anyone who wants to sign up for the training can contact him at 398-4216 or by email at email@example.com.