Southeast salmon may soon enjoy a surprise home makeover. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently announced it will begin evaluations to find Alaska salmon streams most in need of restoration.
The restoration project stems from the agency’s recently announced national plan to get recreational saltwater fishers engaged in improving stocks of some of nation’s most prized sport fish.
In Alaska, the improvement project will “identify and restore important fish spawning habitat by opening up fish passages on rivers and streams and removing marine debris,” according to a NOAA release.
Alaska’s sport fisheries and personal use fisheries are together worth more than $500 million annually, according to Alaska’s Division of Sport Fish.
Trout Unlimited Project Director for Southeast Alaska Mark Kaelke said salmon stream restoration is important to Alaskans on more than one level.
“It puts people to work and improves the value of our fisheries,” Kaelke said.
Restoration of a stream implies the stream has been degraded in some way.
In many of the cases, Kaelke said, no longer used logging practices are to blame.
“There just wasn’t the knowledge,” Kaelke said.
Near some streams, loggers harvested the protective buffer of trees around a stream, called the riparian. Other streams were damaged when logs were transported down stream beds.
“All those practices, for the most part, are not something we deal with in current logging,” Kaelke said. For example, the Tongass Timber Reform Act said that timber harvest activities take place no closer than 100 feet to a stream.
“The riparian zones are now protected pretty well, Kaelke said”
Restoration work includes thinning of dense second growth riparian to encourage larger trees that eventually fall into streams forming slow moving pools, perfect rearing habitat for salmon. Sometimes, Kaelke said, large wood is manually added to the stream to speed the process. Other restoration work would stabilize stream banks and channels and upgrade culverts to allow fish easy access to streams
Trout Unlimited helped restore Montana Creek in Juneau. The non-profit worked with the city to purchase property where a residence straddled the creek. They removed the structure clear of the streambed along with several fuel tanks.
The U.S. Forest Service is also interested in stream restoration. As part of its transition framework, stewardship contracting could include federal funds for restoration of streams and other Tongass habitat.
Kaelke praised the Forest Service’s work identifying streams in need of restoration. The Service recently announced its first set of six priority watersheds for restoration, Kaelke said. The project now needs to raise money.
“It’s one of the key missing elements right now,” Kaelke said.
The potential is there for the different programs working on stream restoration to benefit each other.
“What I’ve seen work on a small scale is various groups coming together and bringing funding sources together,” Kaelke said. “That is essentially what happened on a project TU has coming up on Sitkoh River next summer” where TU, the Sitka Conservation Society, the Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game plan join forces.
NOAA’s saltwater fishers action plans are a new priority for the agency, said Julie Speegle, NOAA Public Affairs Officer. Therefore, she said, she did not yet have a list of streams NOAA plans to improve.
The partnership will prioritize which stream and watersheds need restoration first — based on parameters such as past salmon productivity and the most effective allocation of funds. There are many ways to prioritize, Speegle said.
This is NOAA’s first such action plan targeting saltwater recreational fishers.
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