Category Archives: Featured Content

My, What Big Teeth You Have!

No, you are not looking at the skull of some prehistoric species of alligator that once slithered through the swamps of Alaska when it was at a more southerly, tropical locale.

Or a baby dragon.

Nor is it the snout of a wolf or husky – but it is something of an honorary member of the canid family.

(TOGIAK NWR/USFWS)

It’s Oncorhynchus keta, better known to anglers as a chum salmon and sometimes called dog.

The image was snapped on a gravel bar in the Togiak NationalWildlife Refuge, and probably belonged to either a female or subordinatemale, speculates a salmon biologist on one of the WestCoast’s chummier rivers.

“Dominant males tend to growsome really nasty teeth, and often a set of canines. Subordinate males grow less in the way of teeth. But different populations can have larger or less impressive dentures too, so it depends a lot,” says Brett Barkdull.

The reason for that fearsome grill isn’t so much to savage seafood – out in the Pacific chums mainly feast on tiny crustaceans and soft-bodied mollusks, squid and worms – but for their brief time in the rivers.

“Chums fight like crazy,” says Barkdull. “Males fight males, females fight females. It’s quite common to see males with their caudul peduncle all chewed up – sometimes even bitten half through. They will kill each other at times.”

We joked that those big toofers might also be a defense against Alaska’s wellknown
brown bears, but Barkdull – whose gig requires himto wade salmon streams – didn’t exactly laugh at that one.
“When they are spawning, watch out.

I’ve been grabbed around the ankle more than once. They will defend themselves,”
he says.

EPA: Potential ‘Adverse Impacts’ On Bristol Bay Salmon Fishery With Pebble Mine; Comment Period On Draft Study Open Into July

(U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY PRESS RELEASE)

(Editor’s note: Links to news articles here: AP; Bloomberg; Cordova Times)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today released for public comment a draft scientific study of the Bristol Bay watershed and its natural resources. EPA’s report responds to growing interest in large-scale mining in the watershed from a number of stakeholders and local communities with a range of views and will lead to a better understanding of potential environmental impacts of these activities on the watershed. Under the Clean Water Act, EPA has the authority and responsibility to protect the nation’s water and perform scientific studies that enhance the agency’s and the public’s knowledge of water resources. EPA’s focus in the assessment is scientific and technical; the agency has made no judgments about the use of its regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act and the draft study in no way prejudges future consideration of proposed mining activities.

BRISTOL BAY SALMON RUNS AVERAGE 37.5 MILLION ANNUALLY AND PROVIDE WIDESPREAD ECONOMIC BENEFITS THAT MAY BE IMPACTED IF MINE PONDS AT A PLANNED GIANT MINE IN ITS HEADWATERS WERE TO FAIL, SAYS A DRAFT EPA REPORT. (TERRY WIEST/STEELHEAD UNIVERSITY)

The report assesses the watershed’s natural resources and the economic benefits associated with those resources, including the largest undisturbed wild sockeye salmon run in the world. EPA’s draft study does not provide an in-depth assessment of any specific mining project, but instead assesses the potential environmental impacts associated with mining activities at a scale and with the characteristics that are realistically anticipated, given the nature of mineral deposits in the watershed, the requirements for successful mining development, and publicly available information about potential mining activity. The report concludes that there is potential for certain activities associated with large-scale mining to have adverse impacts on the productivity and sustainability of the salmon fishery in the watershed. Potential impacts could include loss of habitat used for salmon spawning and rearing. The assessment, when finalized following the important public comment and independent peer review, could help inform future decisions on any large-scale mining in Bristol Bay by both federal and non-federal decision-makers.

The draft assessment focused on the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds, which produce up to half of all Bristol Bay salmon and are open to mining development under Alaska law.

Key findings in EPA’s draft assessment include:

· All five species of North American Pacific salmon are found in Bristol Bay. The Bristol Bay watershed supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world. The Kvichak River produces more sockeye salmon than any other river in the world. The Nushagak River is the fourth largest producer of Chinook salmon in North America.
· Bristol Bay’s wild salmon fishery and other ecological resources provide at least 14,000 full and part-time jobs and is valued at about $480 million annually.
· The average annual run of sockeye salmon is about 37.5 million fish.
· Bristol Bay provides habitat for numerous animal species, including 35 fish species, more than 190 bird species and 40 animal species.

EPA also examined the importance of Bristol Bay salmon in sustaining the traditional subsistence lifestyle of Alaska Native Villages in the watershed. The assessment includes detailed reports on Bristol Bay indigenous culture, wildlife and economics, as well as salmon and other fish.

EPA will take public comment on the draft assessment until July 23. The agency has also scheduled public meetings in Alaska in June and will host webinars for people interested in learning more about the assessment. EPA is also submitting the draft assessment for independent scientific peer review. All of this information will help guide a final report. For information on public meetings and how to submit comments, visit our website: http://www.epa.gov/region10/bristolbay/.

For more information on EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and to read the assessment, visit: http://www.epa.gov/region10/bristolbay/

Prime Time For Face Time At Sportsmen’s Shows

Lessons on picking Alaska guides from someone left for a week in the wild by ‘an unscrupulous pilot.’

QUESTIONS TO ASK, THINGS TO CONSIDER

By Tom Reale

Even if you’ve got friends or relatives living in Alaska, and even if they’re avid hunters and/or fisherpersons, nobody knows everything there is to know about all the guides, transporters, flight services, etc., in the state. So unless you’ve got an “in” with a local, you’re probably going to have to look around for info.

One of the better ways to do this is to go to a sportsman’s show. Lots of Alaska companies and individuals make a point of attending these shows to drum up business, and it’s a good way for you to have a face-to-face meet-up with someone instead of conducting your business by email or phone.

POTENTIAL CLIENTS SPEAK WITH REPRESENTATIVES OF A SOUTHEAST ALASKA LODGE. (O’LOUGHLIN TRADE SHOWS)

That said, we don’t want to destroy any illusions you might have about your fellow man, but not everyone in this business is destined for sainthood.

While out-and-out fraud is rare, there are people whose business and people skills leave something to be desired. As someone who was once left in the Wrangell Mountains for an extra week by an unscrupulous pilot, I’ve learned the hard way to check out operators ahead of time, and to pay attention to warning signs.

One of the most valuable tools you have at your disposal when interviewing prospective businesses is your gut. If the other person is at all evasive about giving direct and informative answers, seems defensive when you ask hard questions, or just gives off a bad vibe for you, walk away. Chances are that there’s someone else operating in the area you’re interested in who you can talk to. Ask around, do your homework, and trust your instincts.

START BY ASKING basic questions:

How long have you been in business?

What’s your background in this field?

Where do you live in the off-season – are you full-time Alaska resident or a seasonal operator?

Find out about all the costs associated with your trip. Can you save money by shipping gear to your location ahead of time to cut down on airline fees?

In the case of remote lodges, does the fee quoted include transportation to the location from the nearest airport or ferry terminal?

For guided hunting and fishing trips, are there fees for processing your fish and game?

What will it cost to ship meat and fish home?

If you’re looking at a multi-species trip, what are the peak seasons for the fish or game you’ll be after?

If you’re planning on something like a deer and ducks combo, or a cast-and-blast hunting and fishing trip, quite often the peak seasons for both species won’t coincide perfectly. You’ll have to decide which is more important to you, and take the chance of getting skunked on your secondary target.

Actually, you’re taking a chance of getting skunked no matter what you’re going after, but that goes without saying.

Ask about the normal weather conditions for the time you’re considering, and also about available daylight. Daylight hours become a real issue the farther north you go and the later in the season you’re looking at.

THEN THERE’S figuring out how many days you’ll actually be hunting or fishing during the trip, says Larry Carroll of Kodiak Adventures Lodge.

“A six-day, six-night trip is not six days of hunting,” he points out. “Most of the time by the time you get to the lodge/camp you will not be able to hunt the first day and sometimes not much on the last day. Ask!”

John Rodriguez of J&J Charters on Prince of Wales Island suggests that you find out the schedule for getting to and from your final destination and work backwards from there when making your ferry and airplane reservations. If you find out you have to spend an extra day’s food and lodging in a port city, it can add considerably to your costs.

FIND OUT HOW MANY people will be in camp when you’re there, and if you’ll be sharing accommodations with people not in your party. This isn’t always a bad thing, but you should know the arrangements before you get there.

Ask if there are other lodges or camps in the area, how close they are, and how many people they usually have in camp.

Ask about facilities for cleaning and butchering your stuff, and ask about freezer space.

Do they have shipping boxes on hand, or do you have to supply coolers or boxes.

Ask about references. It’s best if they’ll give you contact info for people to communicate with – a rave review by “Jim S. of Seattle” on a Web site is worthless.

There’s always the chance that they’ll just hook you up with a buddy who will give a good recommendation, but that’s where your gut instincts will work for you again.

AND FINALLY, ASK about deposits and cancellation and refund policies. Get that in writing before you turn over your hard-earned dough.

The recent economic downturn has hit many operators hard, and that can turn out to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you might be able to bargain a bit when it gets down to the bottom line, and an outfit that’s running at less than full capacity might be willing to deal.

On the other hand, if a company has had to reduce staff and maintenance costs, it could mean that the stellar reviews you get from last year might not still be applicable.

If you perform due diligence on your trip, check as many info sources as possible, and trust your instincts, you’ll probably have a great trip.

Keep your expectations reasonable, your sense of humor in place, and have fun!

FACE TIME

You may be able to meet potential Alaska fishing lodge hosts and hunting camp guides during the upcoming sportsman’s show season around the Northwest. Here are this season’s dates:

JANUARY

Jan. 11-15: Portland Boat Show, Expo Center, Portland; otshows.com

Jan. 20-22: Great Rockies Sport Show, Metra Park, Billings; greatrockiesshow.com

Jan. 20-22: Tri-Cities Sportsmen Show, TRAC Center, Pasco; shuylerproductions.com

Jan. 25-29: Washington Sportsmen’s Show, Western Washington Fairgrounds, Puyallup; otshows.com

Jan. 27-29: Great Rockies Sport Show, Kalispell, Flathead County Fairgrounds; greatrockiesshow.com

Jan. 27-Feb. 5: Seattle Boat Show, CenturyLink Field Event Center/South Lake Union, Seattle; seattleboatshow.com

Jan. 28-Feb. 4: Spokane National Boat Show, Spokane County Fair & Expo Center, Spokane; spokaneboatshow.com

FEBRUARY

Feb. 3-5: Eugene Boat & Sportsmen’s Show, Lane County Fairgrounds, Eugene; exposureshows.com

Feb. 3-5: Great Rockies Sport Show, Montana ExpoPark, Great Falls; greatrockiesshow.com

Feb. 8-12: Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show, Expo Center, Portland; otshows.com

Feb. 17-18: Seattle Sportsmen’s Convention fundraiser, Meydenbauer Center, Bellevue, Wash.; working4wildlife.com

Feb. 17-19: Douglas County Sportsmen’s & Outdoor Recreation Show, Douglas County Fairgrounds, Roseburg, Ore.; exposureshows.com

Feb. 17-19: Central Washington Sportsmen Show, SunDome, Yakima; shuylerproductions.com

Feb. 24-26: Great Rockies Sport Show, Bozeman, Gallatin County Fairgrounds; greatrockiesshow.com

Feb. 24-26: Jackson County Sportsmen’s & Outdoor Recreation Show, Jackson County Expo, Medford; exposureshows.com

MARCH

March 1-4: Idaho Sportsmen’s Show, Expo Idaho, Boise; idahosportsmanshow.com March 2-4: BC Boat & Sportsmen’s Show, and BC Hunting Show, TRADEX, Abbotsford, B.C.; squarefeetevents.ca

March 8-11: Central Oregon Sportsmen’s Show, Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center, Redmond; otshows.com

March 9-10: Northwest Fly Tyer and Fly Fishing Expo, Linn County Expo Center, Albany, Ore.; nwflytyerexpo.com

March 15-18: Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, Spokane County Fair & Expo Center, Spokane; wildlifecouncil.com/bighornsubsite/index.html

March 23-25: Inland Northwest Outdoor Show, Clearwater River Casino Events Center, Lewiston; lcvalleychamber.org

APRIL

April 28-29: South Olympic Peninsula Outdoor Recreation & Adven ture Expo, Grays Harbor County Fairgrounds, Elma, Wash.; ghcfairgrounds.com

Alaska Salmon 2011: Not Too Shabby

‘More than a few bright spots, very few total washouts.’
Fishery manager terms estimated return of 160 million a ‘top 20 percent’ year.

By Tom Reale

The 2011 salmon sportfishing season was the usual mixed bag of ups, downs, missed predictions, surprises for biologists, and just general chaos. However, there were more than a few bright spots in the season, and very few total washouts.

In Southeast, salmon fishing for kings and silvers was pretty much in line with projections, with pink salmon being the biggest shortfall. However, since pinks are rarely targeted by sportfishers, this was mostly a commercial fishing problem.

(IMAGE: TERRY WIEST, SALMONUNIVERSITY.COM)

In the Bristol Bay area, Chinook “returns were consistent with expectations, and there weren’t any emergency closures for kings out there, and the runs weren’t as bad as last year,” said Craig Schwanke, fisheries biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

The Nushagak sonar counter tallied nearly 60,000 kings for the year, peaking around the third week of June, so compared to other years, a middle-of-the-road return.

Red salmon numbers for the area were better. According to Schwanke, all the escapement goals for sockeyes in the Bristol Bay region were met, although some commercial openings had to be curtailed in order for that to happen.

Silvers in the region were not noteworthy for being either high or low for the year, chums aren’t managed in Bristol Bay, and pink salmon are an even-year occurrence, so there weren’t any humpies to speak of out there.

KINGS WERE PRESENT in catchable though low numbers in the famed Kenai River; ADFG’s Web site says,

“The season finished with very low fishing success rates.”

The 2009, ’10 and ’11 seasons were quite similar in numbers of kings present in the river, and the surveys show a pretty steady decline in return numbers since 2003 when over 55,000 fish were estimated to have passed by the sonar counters.

This is known as the most popular sportfishing venue in Alaska, so when things are bad on the Kenai, it tends to have a ripple effect on businesses on the Kenai Peninsula and throughout Southcentral.

In Upper Cook Inlet, the Deshka River aims for a Chinook escapement between 13,000 and 28,000 fish, and the counters came up with about 19,000, right in the middle of what they aim for, according to Sam Ivey of the Palmer Fish & Game office. The streams on the east side of the Parks Highway in the Mat-Su Valley are a traditional hotbed of activity for Valley and Anchorage anglers, but this year numbers were down, and the Board of Fish decided to try and reduce the catch numbers by cutting off one weekend of fishing and to prohibit overnight fishing. Even with these restrictions, there were still a number of escapement goals that weren’t met in the Talkeetna drainage.

As for why king numbers are lower is anybody’s guess, but the fact that it’s consistent over such an enormous area and length of time points to something going on at sea – climate change, commercial fishing issues, hatchery fish outcompeting natural runs, baitfish problems, long-term ebbs and rises in salmon populations.

Silvers in Upper Cook Inlet provided fair to good fishing, but not anywhere that consistently produced hot fishing. According to Ivey, the reduced numbers of coho salmon in the inlet were an area-wide phenomenon, which probably points to marine survival issues. Whether that’s a function of water conditions, intercept catches by the commercial fleet or any one of a number of other factors, nobody knows, but quick turn-arounds are possible.

“Coho rebound numbers can be spectacular – sometimes it only takes a few coho to make a lot of coho,” Ivey said, so there’s always hope. Stay tuned.

One saving grace for the year was a great chum salmon return. While most people don’t target chums, they can be a great way to enjoy some fishing action while pursuing silvers – catch a few nice chums, release them if you don’t care for them as table fare, and hone your reflexes while you wait for a silver to happen by.

OVERALL THE STATE SAW a return of roughly 160 million salmon. Geron Bruce, deputy director of ADFG’s commercial fisheries division, was quoted in the Anchorage Daily News as saying, “Still, it will rank in the top 20 percent of Alaska’s salmon harvests since statehood. And there’s been pretty good distribution all around the fishing regions. Not like last year when it was really concentrated in Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound, and other areas really had subpar seasons.”

The other nice surprise was the red salmon run in the Kenai River system. The sonar counter near the river mouth counted over 1.6 million fish by the time it was shut down, the sport limit was doubled to six fish per day, and personal use dipnetters had a banner year in the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers. While the runs in the Russian River never quite lived up to the standard set in the Kenai, overall the numbers in the whole system were quite good.

If you look at the big picture for the year, there were more than a few bright spots, and, as far as sportfishers were concerned, no real disasters to speak of.

The worst you can say about many spots were that the salmon fishing was “average,” but average for Alaska is pretty spectacular for anywhere else.

AS FOR WHAT TO EXPECT for the future, the department will gather all the data from the fish counts and catch numbers over the winter, and try to come up with a good guess as to what to expect for 2012.

If you’re thinking of making the trip next year, monitor the ADFG’s Web site for the latest info, brush up on your technique, and no matter what the projections are, come on up anyway – you’ll be fishing in Alaska! How bad can it be? ASJ