Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Opportunities to Be Involved - Conservation of Chinook Salmon on the Kuskokwim River

December 10, 2013

For many of you who grew up or are living on the Kuskokwim River, the topic of the recent decline of the king salmon run is both sensitive and important, and with good reason.  After all, the largest subsistence harvest of Chinook salmon in the state is taken from the Kuskokwim River.

The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group (WG) is a group "which serves as a public forum for federal and state fisheries managers to meet with local users of the salmon resource and review run assessment information and reach a consensus on how to proceed with management of Kuskokwim River salmon fisheries", according to the ADF&G website.  Anyone can be a member of the WG, in fact the WG encourages participation from all along the river.  The more input, the better.

You might think that the only time to be involved is in the summer.  Think again!  Some WG members have been meeting throughout the fall in small work sessions, and the WG will continue to meet into the winter.   The objective right now is to develop a list of recommendations for management in 2014.  In September, WG chairs sent out a letter to tribes, soliciting input.  It included this message:

A serious concern, needing your input....Ways to be involved include the following opportunities:

December 13: KYUK Chinook Conservation and Management Radio show with guests Mark Leary, Megan Leary and Glen Lindsey: 11 AM; 543-5985 or 543-2756 to call in or  toll free 1-800-996-8954.

December 17: Full Working Group Meeting for Management Strategy Discussion; teleconference available.

December 19: Sophie Evan will host a call in show on subsistence issues with guests Myron Naneng and possibly Zach Brink all in Yup'ik

January 6:KYUK Chinook Conservation and Management Radio Show with guests Travis Elison, Robert Sundwon: 11 AM; 543-5985 or 543-2756 to call in  or  toll free 1-800-996-8954.

January 8-9: Working Group Meeting to include presentations from ADF&G and discussion about what happened in 2013 and how to prevent it from happening again in 2014, as well as management strategies for 2014. Teleconference available.

Mark Leary, from the Native Village of Napaimute, talks about the upcoming radio show on Friday and I think does a good job of summarizing the importance of participation:

"The purpose of this show is to continue the discussion about the need to conserve our King Salmon in 2014 and to give the perspective of what it’s like to fish in the Middle and Upper Kuskokwim after the huge population of the Lower River has caught all they want – leaving very little for the People further up and almost nothing for escapement.

We always talk about protecting subsistence for the younger/future generations, but we never let the younger generations talk about how they feel. And this is where we are now: trying to SAVE the King Salmon so that these young people and their future families can continue fishing for them."

Dec. 13



Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Latest News on Cleanup at Red Devil Mine site

November 7, 2013

Power plant, shaft house and rotary furnace installation, Red Devil Mine. Kuskokwim Region, Georgetown District, Alaska. September 19, 1943 — at Red Devil, AK.

Last week, GTC received an update on the cleanup of the abandoned mercury mine located at Red Devil, Red Devil Mine (RDM).  The information we got was as follows:
  • At this point, the remedial investigation (RI) is almost final.
  • The draft feasibility study (FS) has been reviewed – and lays out various remedies for cleanup to address contamination 
  • BLM is working on a study, trying to develop a mixture to add to the tailings on site
  • BLM is planning a removal action for next summer.  It will pull contamination back from creek
  • BLM will be meeting with the public next spring to talk about that plan.
Following this update, I contacted Mike McCrum , the project manager at BLM for the cleanup at RDM, to discuss the information provided above.  Mike gave me a detailed update of RDM cleanup issues, and I'd like to share that information with you here.
The Cleanup Process under CERCLA

First it is important to understand that the cleanup at RDM is being conducted under the CERCLA process.  The basic outline of events are as follows:
A Remedial Investigation(RI) is conducted to outline what is taking place at the site of interest.  Studies are conducted and the problem is identified.
Next a Feasibility Study(FS) is done, identifying 4 possible ways to clean up the RDM site
Once these are complete, a Proposed Plan is issued to the public, basically describing the RI/FS process and outcomes in an understandable manner.
Public comment and community meetings take place following the proposed plan, and once comments are taken into consideration along with all of the other findings,
A Record of Decision (ROD) is issued with the final decision on how to proceed with cleanup at RDM.
So where are we now in this process?
The draft FS was sent from BLM to EPA in April.  BLM, EPA and DEC will be conducting meetings soon to discuss comments on that document.  Following that, the Final FS will be issued, and that is expected out next summer.
BLM already has a contractor on board to do the proposed plan and Record of Decision (ROD) following the issuance of the FS.   Public commenting and community meetings are expected to occur in Feb/March of 2015, prior to the issuance of the ROD.
In the Feasibility Study, there are 4 different alternatives of dealing with the site as a whole that they will need to decide between:

  1. No action
  2. Leave tailings where they are, and put up signs and fences around the site, thus reducing the risk of exposure to wildlife and human populations
  3. Remove the tailings  in and next to creek where water leaches tailings – build a repository up above the creek where there is a flat area, move the tailings there and cover it with something to prevent leaching
  4. Excavate the tailings the same as #3 but barge it out instead of moving it to another location on site.

What about that Mixture they'll add to the site?

 As part of alternative #3, there are tailings on site that have high concentrations of Mercury, Antimony and Arsenic. There is a procedure called TCLP (toxicity characteristic leaching procedure) which is designed for municipal landfills that can be applied to the tailings – where you combine a certain chemical with the tailings, let it sit and then filter off the solids and check the solution for the concentration of metals.  If it is at a certain level, it is said to have a “toxicity characteristic”.  This would give it special regulatory status under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), where it would need to be handled and disposed of as hazardous waste.

This was done to the tailings at RDM and the tailings to the south side of the creek where not a lot of stuff is growing, failed for Arsenic.  On the north side of the creek, no samples failed.  The tailings that failed this test are now considered hazardous waste and must be handled under RCRA.

There are two kinds of waste under RCRA – listed materials  (where RCRA always applies) and materials that display characteristics at a certain level (RCRA applies unless treated to a point where they no longer display these characteristics).  The tailings that failed Arsenic tests at RDM are the second of these kinds of waste. 

So since some of the tailings are now considered hazardous waste, BLM is doing a treatability study as part of the FS, which is where the “mixture” referred to at the beginning of this article comes in. 

BLM took samples of that material last summer, and are looking at solidifying or encapsulating it with a cement type mixture then re-running for TCLP.  If it passes, it makes the tailings easier to handle and they wouldn’t need to be disposed of as hazardous waste or given special status under RCRA.  If alternative #3 is the route that is chosen, and this proves to be a good way to go, then this is what would be done to all of those tailings.

EARLY ACTION is another term that comes into play when talking about RDM Cleanup.

While working on the site wide strategy, if there is an obvious part of the problem that  you can do something about you are allowed to say – here’s the problem right here, we don’t have to wait to do something about this specific issue.  This is called an early or interim action.  In this case the immediate problem is that the tailings are moving into the creek out into the Kuskokwim River and they need to do something to stop that from happening.

So next summer they plan to move tailings away from the creek. They are focused on creek and material next to creek to prevent movement to the river. Early action would not move tailings OFF SITE , just move them away from the creek.

In order to complete the early action, BLM needs to complete a risk assessment, and develop a document called an engineering evaluation cost analysis (EECA) – which is like a mini RI/FS focused just on that action.
BLM is developing an EECA now and in January, plans to talk with communities about EECA and ethe arly action plan. 

Mike McCrum will be giving a presentation of this material at AFE this February in Anchorage.  Keep your eye out for more information as it becomes available.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

An opportunity to be involved: Nominate yourself or another Georgetown member to be part of GTC's Environmental Committee

If you are Alaska Native,
then you have all the power to make a better world
for your children and their children╩╝s children
that is what we have been doing and that is what we will continue doing today

If you are Alaska Native,
then you have the strength of 500 generations standing with you
you are the mountaintop,
you are good enough,
you are the standard of intelligence and beauty,
you are going to win,
and you are everything we need right now.

-Du Aani Kawdinook Xh'unei, Assistance Professor of Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast
Our goal? Keeping Georgetown as clean and pristine as it always has been.
For more details, perks and contact info, check out our Environmental Committee Brochure, http://www.georgetowntc.com/pdf/EnvCommitteeBrochure.pdf and keep your eye on the mailbox.............. info coming soon!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

ADF&G Releases the 2013 Preliminary Kuskokwim Area Salmon Season Summary

October 17, 2013

The information taken from this article comes from the ADF&G News Release, issued October 9, 2013.  To read the News Release in its entirety, please go here.
In January 2013, the Board of Fish met and approved a new management plan (5 AAC 07.365), and a new drainage wide Chinook salmon sustainable escapement goal(SEG) of 65,000-120,000 fish. Following the management plan, in 2013 ADF&G used in season run projections based on BTF catch per unit effort (CPUE) and subsistence harvest reports to assess current run abundance.

The Chinook salmon forecast was 160,000-240,000 fish.  Given that the escapement goal was 65,000-120,000, this would have left enough Chinook salmon after escapement to meet average subsistence Chinook harvest of 84,000 fish.  The forecast didn't turn out to be true: subsistence harvest needs were not  met all along the river and escapement goals will likely not be met either.
Based on BTF, the Chinook salmon run started about one week later than average, had a strong pulse and then dropped off about two weeks earlier than average.  Chinook salmon escapement at tributary weirs were the lowest on record at all projects. Escapement goals at the George River and the Kogrukluk River were not met.  The drainage wide SEG was "likely not achieved", but estimates won't be final until this winter.

The following restrictions occurred on the main stem of the Kuskokwim in 2013: Gillnet mesh size was restricted and hook and line Chinook salmon fishing was closed from the mouth of the Kuskokwim to Tuluksak from June 28 through July 9 and from Tuluksak to Chuathbaluk from July 3 through July 14.
Looking forward, ADF&G says this about the 2014 Management Strategy:

"The Kuskokwim Area has experienced low Chinook salmon runs during the past four years and run sizes the past two years were among the lowest on record. In 2012 and 2013, the majority of escapement goals were not consistently achieved. As a result the department will be working with the public to implement a more conservative management strategy for Chinook salmon in 2014.
In general, management will be restrictive at the onset of the season with the potential to relax restrictions based on inseason information if warranted. Management options and specific actions to be taken will be discussed with federal managers, the Working Group, and public stakeholders through the winter with the expectation for finalized management strategies prior to the season.
Management options under consideration in the Kuskokwim River include significant reductions in subsistence fishing time, gillnet mesh size and fish wheel restrictions, and delaying the onset of commercial fishing in District 1 to avoid incidental harvest of Chinook salmon."
The general consensus from folks along the river is that we have a lot of work to do.  I think we can all agree that no one wants to see numbers this low again.  In my opinion, working together is the only way to ensure that this goal is met.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

6th Annual Northwest Tribal Water Rights Conference

October 9 & 10, 2013

Last week, I attended the NW Tribal Water Rights conference, hosted by the Center for Water Advocacy, and had the honor of presenting information on behalf of the Georgetown Tribal Council (GTC) about our water quality program.  In attendance were a variety of not for profit environmental groups, environmental lawyers and other professionals, state representation from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), representation from Senator Begich's office, and tribal representation from all over the state of Alaska.  The turnout was good, with an estimated 75 people in attendance. 
A wide variety of topics as related to the importance of water conservation were covered including House Bill 77, water quality standards, Tribal health and fish consumption, food security, chemical dispersants in oil spill response, fracking, and traditional knowledge. GTC's goal was to increase awareness of the Kuskokwim River water quality database and map, as well as educate other tribes on how they can start collecting baseline water quality data in their areas.  For a copy of our PowerPoint presentation, please click here.

The first issue covered was House Bill 77. Prior to this conference, I had not heard much about this bill. According to information presented, House Bill 77 would have a big impact on private access to water throughout the state. It would give the appointed DNR commissioner power to make decisions on water quality, take away the rights of individuals/tribes to apply for in stream flows, and reduce the ability of all to participate in the permitting process.  In summary, this bill would increase regulation of water rights under state law, reduce access to individuals, and eliminate rights of citizens and tribal governments to request water rights for instream flow.  For more information on HB77, view this fact sheet, created by StandForSalmon.org.  Providing enough instream flow is an important step for rehabilitation of streams and protection of salmon habitat.  Tribal resolutions throughout the state have been created to oppose HB 77 and support the need to discuss strategies over water rights in Alaska. 

A panel of speakers also discussed the importance of the use of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), including how and when it can be integrated with "western" scientific studies. There was a great variety of perspective given on the topic; E. Barrett Ristroph, a legal researcher for the Wilderness Society, discussed how TEK can be integrated with agency decision making, while Larry Merculieff, well known in the tribal community, spoke about the Alaska Native Science Commission's work in bridging gaps between western science and indigenous science.  Ristroph stressed the importance of identifying experts in your community on TEK, and establishing protocols on collecting and using the data.  One of the many points well worth taking away from Merculieff's talk: let's be proactive not reactive - when collecting information we can either choose to focus  on moving away from something that has happened to us, or we can choose to move forward to a goal we would like to have happen-  the choice is ours. 

Tribal health was a third topic of interest that I'd like to comment on here.  Vi Waghiyi, the program director for Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), shared information regarding health and food security for the Yupik people of St Lawrence Island, Alaska and Riki Ott, PhD and former commercial fisherma'm, discussed her work on the negative impacts of using dispersants in oil spill response.  Waghiyi discussed ACAT's efforts to collect and present information on the various exposure pathways of polychlorinated byphenyls (PCB) in traditional foods of the Arctic.  "PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system." (EPA site).  Waghiyi and other researchers examined Yupik traditional foods for contaminants to inform community decisions and interventions. It was found that the consumption of rendered oils and blubber from traditional foods such as seal, whale, walrus, and polar bears are a main contribution of higher levels of PCBs found in Arctic Indigenous peoples.  The St Lawrence Island delegation has called for stronger legislation for the ratification of the Stockholm Convention, an international legally-binding treaty on POPs. 

Riki Ott, PhD,  is spearheading a national grassroots coalition to ban toxic dispersants used in oil spill response.  Her presentation was informative, inspiring, interesting and quite frankly - a bit frightening.  Turns out, the use of dispersants in oil spill response is doing more damage than good.  The intention is to disperse oil contaminants in the ocean, but instead they are creating deformed marine life, negative long-term health impacts on people living in areas near oil spills, and more than likely a vast number of unknown negative impacts - one would think they'd be banned.  Quite the opposite is occurring; oil equipment is now being required to be equipped with the capability to disperse these chemicals.  Another frightening point - EPA has created a "safe" list of chemicals allowable for use.  It's quite the hassle to get something added to this list, but interestingly enough - there is no process to remove that chemical if determined to be detrimental, such as this one.  Visit Rikki's website for more information, the topics she covers impacts each and every one of us(rikkiott.com).

Finally - Caleb Behn, a young First Nations law student and emerging leader from northeast BC, was the keynote speaker on the first day of the conference.  The northeast BC is the epicenter of some of the world's largest fracking operations, and Behn "tries to reconcile the fractures within himself, his community and the world around him - blending modern tools of the law with ancient wisdom."  He has produced a documentary on fracking, entitled Fractured Land.  I'll let the trailer do the talking here.

It is always empowering when a large group of individuals from various backgrounds come together to discuss a topic as important  as this - water quality, water rights, and water preservation.  We are all connected to water in more ways than one.  Think about  it - our bodies are made up of 65% water.  Our Earth - 70% water.  The food we consume, the water we drink, the weather that determines so many things...all of it has a common theme - water.  Let's protect it.  I am reminded now of Georgetown's environmental mission statement: "We are all responsible for our environment and we are entrusted with its preservation so that our children and grandchildren can benefit in the same way we have."  How? Be educated, take action. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Georgetown Subsistence Harvest Documented in ADF&G Report

September 18, 2013

This week, Georgetown Tribal Council received hard copies of ADF&G Technical Paper No. 379, entitled Subsistence Harvests in 6 Communities in the Lower and Central Kuskokwim River Drainage, 2010.  The study and report were completed by ADF&G Division of Subsistence, and the report edited by Caroline L Brown, Hiroko Ikuta, David S. Koster, & James S. Magdanz.  The study was conducted between 2009 and 2011, and the report was published in July 2013.

The report summarizes results of research conducted on subsistence harvest and use of wild foods in the following six communities along the Kuskokwim River: Akiak, Kwethluk, Oscarville, Tuluksak, Georgetown and Napaimute.

The report is several hundred pages long and is available in GTC's office.  The full document can be downloaded here.  Since it is such a big file, it may take several minutes to download.

I have scanned an excerpt from the chapter on Georgetown, and it can be found here.  This is a copy of pages 81-84 of ADF&G Technical Report  No. 379.

It's interesting to read the history of Georgetown, and view it alongside of current subsistence harvest trends.  The information available for the other five communities is also worthwhile talking a look at for comparison.  There are maps of subsistence harvest areas, charts documenting population profiles and history, and many other valuable pieces of information about the Kuskokwim region.

Stop by the office to borrow a copy of the full report; we also have some flyers documenting the 2012 Kuskokwim fisheries season and regional patterns for the harvest of salmon.  I could send these out via regular mail if you are interested - we have about 15 copies.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Georgetown Water Quality Data and our September Trip

September, 2013

Two weeks ago, we made our way out to Georgetown for our water quality sampling trip.  While we are there, we collect field measurements with a YSI 556 meter, and also bring some water samples back for laboratory testing. 

The YSI allows us to collect on site information such as temperature, pH, DO (dissolved oxygen), conductivity & ORP.  With the results from our lab tests, we gain information about metals, organic pollutants (DRO & GRO), and bacteria (E coli).

Check out our website for the results from our field data collections here.

Monitoring Well Site 2
We gather data from four locations: two monitoring wells in Georgetown, the mouth of the George River, and a point in the Kuskokwim up river from the George.  To view the results of our data spatially, you can visit the Kuskokwim River Water Quality webmapper here.

Along with Georgetown data, the webmapper also houses water quality data for the native villages of Napaimute and Sleetmute.  Our goal is to collect baseline data all along the Kuskokwim River so that we can view trends in data, which will make it possible to identify any abrupt changes, and hopefully determine their source.  Changes in water quality can occur from natural processes such as rising temperatures or flooding tributaries, but could also be caused by development in the area or human disturbances.  The Red Devil mercury mine is an example of development that caused changes to occur in water quality in the area of Georgetown.  With the EIS process already underway for the Donlin Gold mine, it is only a matter of time before construction could begin.  It is our hope that the EIS process will help to prevent any major changes in water quality on the Kuskokwim, but it is good to be prepared for the worst case scenario.

If you are interested in submitting your water quality data to be included in the Kuskokwim River WQ Database, contact me at kate.schaberg@georgetowntc.com or by phone at 907-274-2195.

GTC will be presenting information on this project at the 6th Annual NW Tribal Water Rights conference to be held in Anchorage, AK on October 9-10th.  Follow this link for more information.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Georgetown 2013 Annual Meeting Environmental Report Summary

August 24, 2013


  News From the Kuskokwim

First, there was an update on general environmental news from up and down the Kuskokwim River.  This included fisheries, invasive species and Donlin Gold information.


Fisheries Report

We talked about how the Board of Fish met in January and accepted a revised management plan that was created by ADF& and stakeholders on the river.  The new escapement goal ranges were:

   65,000-120,000         Kuskokwim River drainagewide

          4100-7500         Kwethluk River

          4800-8800         Kogrukluk River

          1800-3300         George River

We then went over each species of salmon that returned to the Kuskokwim and how the numbers were looking for Chinook, chum, sockeye & coho at the Bethel Test Fishery as well as the George River Weir.

Overall, numbers were fairly  low again this year.  What happened to the Chinook run?  It looked as if it was a late run, so ADF&G managed based on that assumption.  It started off looking good, but dropped off abruptly and never rebounded.  What’s next?  Strategies for next year? Discussions happening around the area. The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group will meet on August 27th at 1 PM to discuss ideas.  Would you like to help monitor by recording your subsistence catch? Let me know and I will add your name and address to the Salmon Harvest Calendar mailing list.  You’d have a chance to win in several drawings for prizes up to $500!

photo credit: D Cannon, Butter & eggs in Georgetown

Invasive Species Watch
We talked a little bit about what an Invasive Species is and handed out Alaska Invasive Species booklets to help members identify these plants in their own areas.  An invasive plant  is a plant not from the area that spreads aggressively and rapidly into natural areas and displaces native plants like berries.


photo credit: D Cannon, flowering spirea in Georgetown
We also talked about what’s been found in Georgetown: Common plantain, lambsquarters, pineapple weed, Chickweed, dandelions, butter & eggs, and flowering spirea.

Donlin Gold EIS Update

Next up was some discussion on Donlin Gold and the EIS process.  Donlin Gold filed a permit application to the Army Corps, which triggered compliance with NEPA, including an EIS or Environmental Impact Statement. 

Right now, we are in the creation of the draft EIS phase.  The next opportunity for official public comments will be after the issuance of the draft EIS, expected out late 2014.  At that point, there will be a 90 day commenting period.

Some members of Georgetown expressed interest in talking with Donlin about our concerns for the area as well and doing it during this EIS process, while it is forefront in everyone’s minds.

Earlier in the process, there was a scoping period.  Georgetown submitted official scoping comments during that time frame.  Other people from the area did as well. Some of their concerns included:

  Concern about the effects of the proposed levels of barge traffic on the Kuskokwim such as bank erosion, water levels, and increased spill/accident risk

  Rapid change caused by mine development could make subsistence way of life more challenging.

  Worry about the effects of mercury and other hazardous materials for fish, animal, and human health

  Concern over the ways that mine construction and operation could affect the area‘s water

  Damage to salmon habitat and the potential to contribute to declining salmon runs

  General health and abundance of wildlife, migratory birds, waterfowl & shorebirds concerns

  Worker safety, lifestyle changes, & behavioral health concerns

Georgetown Environmental Update

Next we moved onto Georgetown Specific updates.

Water Quality Report

We continued to collect baseline water quality data for the area surrounding Georgetown including 2 monitoring wells, the George River and the Kuskokwim River.  Our water quality database is doing well and progressing.  We now have Napaimute, Sleetmute and Georgetown data included, allowing for a more broad view of the health of the river.

To view the webmapper with results:

Community Outreach
  We have been busy developing new tools to keep you informed!

If you haven’t visited our environmental website lately, please do so now.  It includes photos, a link to our blog and up to date information on water quality, air quality, mining, climate change and fisheries.

Our environmental blog can also be found from this link.  We currently have almost 1200 views!  Do you have an idea of a topic to be covered on our blog?  Let me know!

And finally, our bi-monthly E-newsletter, bringing you environmental news from the region and Georgetown members, as well as other environmental folks in the region.  Please send me pictures, articles, recipes and more to be included in our next issue (due out in October)

 IGAP Grant Status

Lastly, we discussed Georgetown’s IGAP grant status.  Our current funding ends September 30, 2013.  But there is reason to celebrate!  We just received notification that we have been awarded EPA funding through the IGAP program for 2014 and 2015. 

 Looking Forward………. We have a busy couple of years ahead of us!

What kind of projects do we have in store?  We will continue to collect water quality baseline data and update our webmapper and database.  We will continue to reach out to tribal members via the above methods. 

We will be starting an environmental committee, to keep on top of current issues in the region.  We will be researching all that is involved in the collection of Tribal Ecological Knowledge (TEK) surrounding Georgetown.  We will begin the collection of ASL data to document information on salmon Georgetown members are catching.  We will be preparing for a summer camp to be hosted in 2016. And finally, we will be working toward the creation of an environmental curriculum that will be directed towards students who live in rural Alaska.


Tribal members present completed an Environmental Assessment survey that let me know which parts of the presentation were informative and pertinent.  It also indicated which projects they would be interested in being involved with.

If you were not able to attend this year’s Annual meeting, please take the time to fill out this survey now and send it back to me.

Your participation would be GREATLY appreciated!  We collected 9 surveys at the meeting, but I know there are more of you out there :)

All in all, it was a successful meeting with lots of fun, food and productive conversation. 

Congratulations to David Buddy Kutch and Tamara Vanderpool for winning council seats in this year's election, and to Debby Hartman for winning the 2013 Tribal Member of the Year award.

Thanks again to all who donated door prizes, and to Buddy for hosting the meeting at his house!


Wednesday, August 21, 2013


A Fishing Report

August 21, 2013

I haven't caught a fish since the ice was frozen over the lakes (yes, I realize it's AUGUST).  This shot of me was taken in January, just after Keta was born.   So if you're here looking for some expert fishing advice or top of the line reports...you've come to the wrong place.  If you want a real fishing report, check out ADF&G's fishing reports at this site.

First question: How many fishermen does it take to catch a sockeye on the Kenai River?

This many.
The latest try for fishing was the Kenai River for reds.  I was assured that if I wanted to catch a fish, THIS would be the place to do it. I think some other folks were assured that as well.  And some did!


Not me.

Next question: How many fishermen does it take to LAND a sockeye on the Kenai River?


Three?  Yup.  but not without first almost falling in, dropping a fishing rod and probably ten minutes of effort.  I wasn't timing them, but I lost interest before they landed it, so that's saying something. But really...who am I to be judging?  At least they caught a fish.

Coho, canned
It's really not just about the catching the fish.  We just built our smokehouse, and I was looking forward to smoking some salmon.  We already have some in the freezer and some in jars, but there really isn't anything quite like smoked salmon strips, is there?

Coho strips in a smokehouse

Ok so maybe a big part of it IS about catching the fish.  Come on! I miss those days visiting my brother in Aniak....yes, maybe I could have used a few lessons on how to hold the fish (thanks Mike), but at least I was catching them!
Kate with a coho
So here's some proof that my "getting skunked" streak is NOT for lack of effort:

Or for lack of fish:

Sockeye on the Kenai

Now, for those of you out there who aren't FROM Alaska: you might be wondering - what's a sockeye? A red? A coho? Well, I have an answer for that(for those of you who already know the answer to this question, well you can skip ahead to the more exciting part of the story where I still don't catch a fish).

So, what are the different types of wild pacific salmon and how can you tell the difference?

Most of the specific information from this section comes from a pamphlet published by ADF&G entitled Alaska's Wild Salmon, written by Jonathon Lyman at ADF&G
Reference here.
Ok, so there are seven existing species of Pacific salmon - five of them spawn in Alaska. Those five are the ones I'm talking about here.  Their common names are Chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, and pink salmon.  They have some things in common: they are anadromous, meaning they spawn in freshwater, migrate to salt water to feed and grow, and then return to freshwater where they  spawn and die. They all undergo several changes in color and appearance during their life cycle. 

A bit about each:

Chinook Salmon (king)

King salmon - photo credit: N Catterson, Yakatat
Oncorhynchus tshawytscha   
In adult fish, irregular black spots on the back, the dorsal fin, and both lobes of the tail fin differentiate this species from others.  They also have black coloration along their gum line.  In recent years, there has been a severe decline in the number of chinook returning to spawn on the Kuskokwim and other areas of the state.  They are an important species to subsistence and sport fishermen alike.  They are fun to catch, as they can grow to be quite large.  The average Chinook salmon weighs between 20 and 40 lbs and grows to between 30 and 50 inches in length.
Coho Salmon (silver)

Coho salmon - photo credit: N Catterson, Yakatat
Oncorhynchus kisutch

Adult cohos in saltwater or that have just arrived to fresh water are bright silver with small black dots on their backs and on the upper lobe of the caudal fin (the tail). As they move toward their spawning grounds, they get pinker in coloration and their upper jaw/nostril area becomes hooked.  Coho usually weigh 8 to 12 lbs and can grow between 24 and 30 inches long, some larger.

Sockeye Salmon (red)
Oncorhynchus nerka

Sockeye salmon - photo credit: N. Catterson, Yakatat
You can tell a red salmon from others because they lack the large black spots that other salmon have.  When spawning, they turn brilliant to dark red on the back and sides, and pale to olive-green on the head and upper jaw.  Breeding males develop a humped back and elongated hooked jaws. They are much smaller and usually weigh between 4 and 8 lbs, growing to between 18 and 24 inches long.  These are the kind I can't catch, apparently.

Chum Salmon (dog)

Chum salmon - photo credit: N. Catterson, Yakatat
Oncorhynchus keta - (yes my daughter is named after this one)

Adult ocean chum salmon are metallic greenish-blue on the top with fine black spots, or speckles.  When they get to fresh water, they turn green and purple along their sides, quite pretty.  The males develop the hooked snout and very large teeth.  They weigh between 7 and 18 lbs and grow to between 24 and 32 inches long.  The name dog comes from their large teeth and due to the fact that lots of folks would harvest these fish to feed to their dogs. 

Pink salmon - photo credit: N. Catterson, Yakatat
Pink Salmon (humpy)
Oncorhynchus gorbuscha
This is the smallest of the salmon, with an average weight of 3.5 to 4 lbs, and a length of 15 to 24
inches. An adult fish returning to spawn is bright steely blue on the top and silvery on the sides with a lot of large black spots on the back and on the tail fin.  Before they spawn, the adult males will develop a very pronounced flattened hump on their back (whence the name humpy). 

Question answered.  Now, I have a question for you.  What are the other two species of Pacific salmon?  Hint: they spawn in Asian waters.

Ok so now  I've kind of lost my train of thought.  Ohhh that's right - me not catching any fish, which leads me to my next question.

Why didn't I catch any fish?

Apparently, it's because I wasn't in Yakatat, judging by Nate's pictures. 

But really, maybe it's just that it wasn't a good day for it... Oh I know, it was the weather.
Tell that to the bear who devoured this fish not far off from our tent.

Sockeye remains on the bank of the Kenai
Fish eggs, or roe

Tell that to my family members, who got to catch their fish just fine.

Yup, she's grown THAT much since I caught my last fish.

Well I don't know, but I'll be fishing in Georgetown the first week of September...surely I'll catch a coho then.  Pictures to follow.

For now, I'm just glad it doesn't take the perfect mixture of weather, gear, technique, patience and luck to enjoy catching views of this kind of scenery.

Happy fishing.

Kenai River, Alaska