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WILDLIFE SPORT RESTORATION PROGRAM: A Visit to the Deshka River Salmon Weir in Alaska
Alaska Region, August 29, 2013
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A 16 foot jet boat approaches the weir boat gate where the ends of the pickets are curved down to allow boats to pass over.  Crew member Curren stands on the weir platform operating the cable system that lowers and raises the boat gate.
A 16 foot jet boat approaches the weir boat gate where the ends of the pickets are curved down to allow boats to pass over. Crew member Curren stands on the weir platform operating the cable system that lowers and raises the boat gate. - Photo Credit: Mary Price/USFWS
Weir crew Anthony and Christine take a scale sample from a Chinook salmon. The sample process is quick, and the salmon will be released to continue its upstream journey.
Weir crew Anthony and Christine take a scale sample from a Chinook salmon. The sample process is quick, and the salmon will be released to continue its upstream journey. - Photo Credit: Suzanne Hayes/ADF&G
The Deshka Weir and camp.
The Deshka Weir and camp. - Photo Credit: Daryl Lescanec/ADF&G

Story by Mary Price, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, Alaska Region

 

The Chinook salmon (also called “king” salmon) is the largest of all Pacific salmon, typically measuring about 36 inches in length, and often more than 30 pounds. The Chinook salmon is highly prized by anglers and is extensively fished in both marine and fresh water. Most Alaska sport caught Chinook salmon are from the Cook Inlet basin, and the Deshka River, a tributary of the Susitna River, is in the Northern Cook Inlet Management Area (NCIMA). The Deshka River has historically provided the largest Chinook salmon harvest within the NCIMA, except during the mid-1990s when the fishery was closed due to low escapements. Escapement is the term used for the number of fish that “escape” the fishery and get upstream to spawn.

In response to the decline in Chinook salmon escapement, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game needed to collect information for fishery managers to assess the salmon run strength in-season and set appropriate fishery regulations. The Department constructed, installed and operated a resistance-board (or “floating” weir) on the Deshka River starting in 1995, and has been operated each summer since then. This type of weir is designed to operate in a wide range of river flows and is the most robust type of weir to withstand high water flows and impacts from flood debris like floating trees. A two person crew operates the weir 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week from late May through mid-July.

Getting to the weir is a bit of an adventure in itself, which I got to experience one fine day in July. Using an open skiff with an outboard jet motor, four of us traveled down several miles of the shallow, braided, mud-colored Susitna River and then seven miles up the of the clear, tea-colored, shallow-riffled Deshka River. We were at the weir near the end of the run when the small numbers of salmon demonstrated a preference to swimming upriver at night, so we didn’t see any of the 63 Chinook that were counted that day go through during our mid-day visit. But there had been a few days in June where over 1,000 Chinook swam upstream, and one day with a count of over 3,000.

Chinook salmon populations are again low in recent years, and having an accurate count from the weir is especially important. This year there was some good news. Though the salmon run was a bit slow to start, the big fish did arrive, and this year the Deshka met its escapement goal for Chinook salmon.

This work was funded by the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program and fishing license sales. Excise taxes paid by, anglers, boaters, hunters and shooters provide over $40 million to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for management and research of Alaska’s fish and wildlife. For more information on Deshka Chinook research, go to:
http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=ByAreaSouthcentralNorthCookInlet.research and http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/sf/FishCounts/


Contact Info: Mary Price, 907-786-3982, mary_price@fws.gov



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