JUNEAU, AK –The state’s Catalog of Waters Important for the Spawning, Rearing or Migration of Anadromous Fishes, better known as the Anadromous Waters Catalog (AWC), is now 12.75 miles closer to complete. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game just accepted habitat nominations made by Trout Unlimited to the AWC, which reflects the salmon-bearing waters in the state that are afforded additional conservation measures by state law.
According to the AWC, Southeast Alaska is home to around 320 steelhead streams and 8,000 total anadromous waterways, meaning waters that contain fish that are born in freshwater, spend most of their lives in saltwater, and return to freshwater as adults to spawn, such as salmon and steelhead.
But Juneau-based staff at Trout Unlimited believe the true number is probably much larger. In fact, Alaska Department of Fish & Game recognizes their data collection is suffering from budget cuts and staff reductions, leaving anadromous fish at risk.
Trout Unlimited set out on the arduous task to find and nominate those waters.
“Wild salmon and the habitat they depend on are prized resources in Alaska. Documenting them is a sensible way to help ensure they are accounted for as we grow,” said Mark Hieronymus, Science Coordinator for Trout Unlimited Alaska.
Once included in the catalog, anyone looking to develop in that waterway must adhere to conservation measures, such as timing construction activities to avoid spawning and migration, so fish resources aren’t harmed in the process.
“We knew the catalogue was missing a number of waters containing salmon and steelhead, and we decided it was time to change that,” said Hieronymus.
In addition to not listing every water body with anadromous fish, the catalog is often incomplete or inaccurate in identifying how far upstream anadromous fish migrate or which species are present. For fish like steelhead, which spend much longer than most salmon rearing in freshwater and spawn in the spring well before most other salmon begin their migration from the ocean, any inaccuracies in the catalog means the habitat on which steelhead rely isn’t currently protected under State of Alaska law.
“Salmon are notoriously big business for Alaska, but wild steelhead are both rare and highly sought after by anglers worldwide,” said Hieronymus.
Trout Unlimited has surveyed streams on Chichagof and Baranof Islands. When taken in total, three new species additions and nearly 17 miles of previously undocumented habitat have been nominated for inclusion in the AWC as a result of Trout Unlimited’s efforts since 2018.
Trout Unlimited plans to continue this work, and invites the public to join in the effort to fill in data gaps and provide basic conservation measures for the fish habitat we all value.
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization. In Alaska, we work with sportsmen and women to ensure the state’s trout and salmon resources remain healthy far into the future through our local chapters and offices in Anchorage and Juneau. Follow TU’s Tongass efforts on Facebook and visit us online at tu.org. Learn more about our work to conserve key areas of the Tongass National Forest at americansalmonforest.org.