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ALASKA PENINSULA/BECHAROF:Surveys at Ugashik Narrows Measure Use
Alaska Region, November 16, 2012
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Anglers at Ugashik Narrows.
Anglers at Ugashik Narrows. - Photo Credit: Tara Callaway/USFWS
Bret Greenheck collecting aquatic invertebrate sample.
Bret Greenheck collecting aquatic invertebrate sample. - Photo Credit: Tara Callaway/USFWS
Bret Greenheck interviewing visitors.
Bret Greenheck interviewing visitors. - Photo Credit: Tara Callaway/USFWS

Ugashik Narrows is one of the most popular sport fishing locations in the Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge. The Narrows stretches only a half mile, connecting Upper Ugashik Lake to Lower Ugashik Lake, but offers anglers an impressive opportunity to catch Arctic grayling, Arctic char, Dolly Varden, and sockeye and coho salmon.

 

Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Volunteers Bret Greenheck and Tara Callaway spent an unforgettable summer at Ugashik Narrows from mid-July to late September conducting a variety of fieldwork for the Refuge. Both Bret and Tara are recent graduate students from Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, where they received Master’s degrees in Environmental Education and Biology, respectively.

The purpose of the project was to determine angler impact on the fisheries at the Narrows, and to gauge the quality of the visitor experience. To find this out, two surveys were used. One is a standard form intended to gauge general visitor impressions and expectations. The other, developed in cooperation with Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, targeted questions on what type of tackle anglers were using as well as the species and number of fish caught and released.

We compared the data collected from this summer to similar studies done in 1988 and 1998 at the Narrows. Between 1988 and 2012, the data show a 59.3% increase in total hours fished and a 109.5% increase in the number of fish caught. But the number of fish harvested decreased, with 423 in 1988 and only 94 in 2012.

Moreover, a shift in the number of different species being caught was noticeable. In 1998, anglers caught 991 Arctic grayling and 878 Arctic char and Dolly Varden. Conversely, in 2012, only 187 Arctic grayling were caught and 4,002 Arctic char and Dolly Varden. Similar catch numbers of sockeye and coho salmon were found across all three studies. Nearly all anglers use single, barbless hooks on fly rods, although this is not required.

Although the number of anglers present at the half-mile long Narrows sometimes exceeded 20 at once, anglers who responded to the longer survey still had positive visits. In nearly every category, their experiences exceeded their expectations. But their comments reflect concern over how many people were using the area at the same time. “Lots of fishermen in a small amount of stream,” reflected one respondent.

Bret and Tara also spent time at the Narrows working on other projects. They netted bees for Wildlife Biologist Dominique Watts, who has been cooperating with US Department of Agriculture researchers since last year to inventory bee species on the Alaska Peninsula. Additionally, they conducted plankton tows and sediment samples at the Narrows and Upper and Lower Ugashik lakes for Supervisory Wildlife Biologist Ron Britton.

The oldest archeological site on the Alaska Peninsula is found at Ugashik Narrows, dating back to 9,000 years ago. One of Bret and Tara’s duties was to keep watch over the site to see how rapidly it might be eroding. Artifacts that eroded from the bank were collected and sent to Regional Archeologist Debbie Corbett for cataloging and study.

They also installed an outhouse and invited visitors to use it, in hopes of reducing human waste issues in this popular locale.

By the end of September, bears daily tested the electric fence that protected camp. “We could feel the ground shake when they walked past,” Tara said.

Both Bret and Tara say they are glad to have had the chance to spend time at the Narrows on a Refuge project. “This was the best summer of my life,” Bret remarked.

Ugashik Narrows is a place of importance and intrigue. Its diverse wildlife and abundance of salmon and other fish make it a crucial part of Refuge management. Balancing this with anglers’ expectations of a remote and unspoiled fishing experience provides an interesting conversation for all the stakeholders involved.


Contact Info: Julia Pinnix, 907-246-1211, Julia_Pinnix@fws.gov



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