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'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

Georgetown's Annual Meeting

August 24, 2013


Who?  Calling ALL Georgetown Tribal Members
What?  Tribal Annual Meeting
Where?  Buddy's house in Chugiak, AK
When?  August 24, 2013 at 11 AM
WHY?  Do you really even need to ASK this question!?!?!?!

Every year, Georgetown tribal members gather together to find out the news of their hometown at heart, Georgetown.  This year is no different.  We'll gather together to discuss land issues, roads issues and environmental issues.  We'll eat, we'll drink, we'll talk, we'll have FUN.
Yes, there will be food.
And yes! there will be door prizes. 
And don't you want to find out who wins the early bird prize for sending in their ballots early?
OH! And then there's the council elections for Council seats A & D. 
What's that? Did I forget about the
Tribal Member of the Year award?   (Don't forget to send in your nomination if you haven't yet)
And since this is the environmental blog, I suppose I should put a bit of a plug in for MY presentation.  Come to the meeting, and learn all about the 2013 Kuskokwim salmon fisheries season, get helpful handouts on invasive plants, Donlin updates and more, find out what's new with our water quality program and sign up for potential projects for the upcoming years....we'll talk all about summer camps, salmon sampling, traditional knowledge interviews, environmental education curriculums and more! You could even win a float coat...
I think maybe the right question to ask here instead of why come is WHY NOT?
See you there!
(if you need directions or more information, give us a call at the office at 907-274-2195)


Thursday, August 1, 2013

George River Weir

FYI: Georgetown Tribal Council did not provide any information for the Alaska Dispatch article that references this blog. Our name was used without permission. As stated below, the George River weir is not a GTC project; it is an ADF&G and KNA cooperative project. The numbers in our blog article come from the AYK database provided by ADF&G (found here).

Escapement Numbers as of 7/30/2013

The George River Weir, photo compliments of LaDonn Robbins of KNA

















Located approximately 7 river kilometers up the George River from its confluence with the Kuskokwim River, the George River weir has operated since 1996 through the joint effort of KNA and ADF&G.  The goal of the project is to provide the number and timing for runs of Chinook, sockeye, chum and coho salmon, along with age-sex-length data. 

The confluence of the George River and the Kuskokwim River, Georgetown AK
The Kuskokwim Salmon Management Working Group met on July 30, 2013 and ADF&G gave a report on numbers at Bethel Test Fish and Weir projects, including the George.  Numbers were only given for Chinook and Chum at the George River Weir, but sockeye and coho data is available on the AYK database (found here).

There's good news and there's bad news.  I usually like to start with bad news first so we can end on a good note so here goes nothin':

Pictured below is a graph showing the 2013 primary Chinook run counted at the George River Weir this year, in comparison with years 2004-2012.  As you can see, the 2013 run is the lowest to date since 2004, just under last year.  The run started off pretty slow and kind of on the late side (follow the red dots in graph below), and had a bit of a surge around July 6th until leveling off somewhere around July 17th. 

Graph provided by ADF&G for KRSMWG Meeting 7/30/13
This next figure is a graph I created showing you where escapement numbers were for Chinook at the George River Weir as of 7/30 in previous years (2004-2013).  As you may be aware, salmon runs fluctuate over time and this up and down type pattern is typical.  What may NOT be as typical is the downward trend for each of those cycles, leading us to the lowest ever number as of 2013.  Again, numbers were found at the AYK database for George River projects.  

The good news?
Well, chum are looking a lot better from ADF&G's weir report.  Again, see their figure below, and follow the red dots for 2013.  As you can see, there is a definite pattern in the curve and 2013 is no exception.  We're right in the middle for 2013, slightly under numbers from 2006 and above 2012. 
Graph provided by ADF&G for KRSMWG meeting 7/30/2013

There was no figure given for sockeye or coho. 
Looking into this myself on the database, here's what I came up with:
It's still early for coho.  Last year, numbers really only started picking up around mid August, so we still have some time to wait and see what this year's numbers will be like.  As of 7/30, the count was 27, 16 more than this time last year. 
And sockeye...the number counted so far this year is at 135, a big increase from last year's 26 at this time.  In fact, looking back at the database, this year is the highest it's been since 1997.  And folks fishing at the fish wheel in Georgetown will attest to this.  Word is that fishing was good this summer - catching around 160 nice looking sockeye in two days, and almost 3 times as many chum.
I can't say the same for myself.  I went fly fishing on the Kenai last weekend and we only caught one fish!  But I was supposed to end on good news, so more about that in another post!
The next working group meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 7th at 10 AM.  The call in number and code, as always is: 1-800-315-6338 (MEET); code: 58756# (KUSKO).
The season is starting to wrap up, so this will likely be the last meeting until an end of season recap and looking forward meeting, date still to be determined.  There is a lot of concern from folks up and down the river about the dismal Chinook numbers, so hopefully we can all come together and address those concerns.  If you have ideas or suggestions on what we can do to help protect the Chinook population, comment here or e-mail me at and I will bring your ideas forward to the Working Group meeting.