Federal, state and Tribal entities to research dwindling Chignik Chinook salmon runs

Jul 14, 2021

“There were a few different questions we’re going to try to answer with that project, but a proposal has been submitted and we won’t know about funding until next year,” said Chignik Area Management Biologist Reid Johnson.

Fishing boats in Chignik's city harbor (2018).
Credit Alex Hager/KDLG

Chinook runs have declined all around the state. One of the areas particularly hard-hit by the low returns is the Chignik River. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife plan to launch a three-year research project to find out why the Chignik River’s Chinook run has declined.  

Fish and Game Management Biologist Reid Johnson said now, the holdup is funding.                             

“It’s a partnership between the US fish and wildlife service as well as the Chignik Inter-tribal Coalition,” he said. “There were a few different questions we’re going to try to answer with that project, but a proposal has been submitted and we won’t know about funding until next year.”

If approved, Johnson said they will use the funds to pay staff and buy equipment, like video cameras. The goal is to get an exact count of the chinook run that swims through the area. 

“We’re looking to enumerate all the chinook that pass through the weir during the chinook salmon run,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be using video cameras and software to count all of those and those counts are going to be compared to the traditional method that we use here for enumerating chinook salmon.”

The current seasonal staff would extend their stay in the area to review video and software counts. That would help them verify and qualify their current methods of estimating fish in the river. 

Those counts would be supplemented by subsistence surveys. They plan to hire someone from the Chignik Inter-tribal Coalition to survey beaches in the area to count the salmon harvest and the types of gear used. 

Johnson said the hope is to address the lack of information in the area in order to better understand why the runs have been so small. 

“Part of why we’re partnered with the feds on this project is the US Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t get a lot of subsistence information from the area,” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping to address – getting more subsistence information from the people in the area as well as higher resolution of chinook salmon counts in the weir.” 

The Chinook runs in the area have failed to meet the river’s escapement goal of 1,300 fish almost every year since 2017. As of Tuesday morning, the run was at 285 salmon.

Correction: The minimum escapement goal for the Chignik River is 1,300, not 1,000 as initially reported.

Contact the author at brian@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

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