Spawning grounds stock derby catch

State biologists collect salmon data with fish wheels, spaghetti tags

Posted: Monday, August 17, 2009

CANYON ISLAND - Derby salmon wouldn't be so plentiful if not for the spawning grounds up the Taku River, where state biologists maintain one of the best-managed salmon-rearing rivers in the country.

Eric Morrison / Juneau Empire
Eric Morrison / Juneau Empire

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game runs a fish camp on Canyon Island near the Canada border where it gathers data to estimate the number of spawning king, sockeye, pink, chum and coho by using fish wheels to capture the salmon for tagging, part of an annual stock assessment program.

The department works with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation to ensure there is a healthy stock of fish for aboriginal, recreational and commercial uses.

Camp boss Mike LaFollette was tagging sockeye and coho collected from one of the fish wheels off of Canyon Island on Friday. It was kind of a slow day, with only about a half dozen salmon collected in one of the fish pens around noon. Some days, the wheels redirect hundreds of fish into pens to be tagged, LaFollette said.

After being scooped from the fish pen, LaFollette placed each fish into a holding device containing water to determine the salmon type, length and sex, then took small sample of scales to determine the age.

Before releasing them, a "spaghetti tag" - a thin, colored plastic strip with a code number on it - was inserted just below the dorsal fin of each fish. Then ADF&G scientists wait for tags to come back. The ratio of tagged-to-untagged fish helps determine the abundance of salmon in the river to keep the fishery sustainable.

The Taku River has annual runs of 50,000 to 100,000 adult king salmon, 150,000 to 350,000 adult sockeye and 150,000 to 400,000 adult coho, according to the department.

Because the river was low Friday, the biologists also collected fish using gillnets. The crew set up the nets perpendicular to the camp's beach and waited as fish swam upstream past Canyon Island.

The Canyon Island fish camp is operational from early April to mid-September each year. Coho are expected in the area in about week to spawn, LaFollette said.

The stock assessment programs on the Taku River have been recognized as some of the best in the world, according to ADF&G. Rivers such as the Yukon, Copper, Alsek, Stikine - and as far away as the Deschutes River in Oregon - have used the programs as templates for fisheries management, according to the department.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or

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