Fishermen fear flooding's effect on salmon

Posted: Tuesday, August 05, 2008

FAIRBANKS - Interior Alaska fisherman are worried that recent flooding will harm king salmon eggs deposited in rivers.

Female salmon dig holes called redds in gravel river bottoms to lay eggs before male fish fertilize them.

Virgil Umphenour, owner of Alaska Interior Fish Processors Inc. in Fairbanks, said eggs may be affected by flooding.

"If you have high water and super fast current, the eggs will just go down the river as she's laying them," Umphenour said.

Also, gravel likely is washing down the river and could fill in holes faster than females can dig them, Umphenour said.

State fisheries biologists do not know what effect flooding will have on king salmon spawning in the Chena and Salcha rivers. The flood coincided with the peak of spawning.

"Most times when we've had floods, they happened later on, after the fish were done spawning," said Dan Bergstrom, Department of Fish and Game regional supervisor for the Yukon River. "This year is different because it's right on top of when they should be spawning."

While the effects of floods on spawning salmon are uncertain, high water stresses fish and forces them to use more energy fighting the current as they move up the river, said Pat Milligan, a biologist with the Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Whitehorse, Yukon. If kings this year are smaller than normal, as many fishermen have reported, it may be more difficult for them to reach spawning grounds.

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