For Now and The Future
Sustainability is written into the Alaska State Constitution.
To us, sustainability is more than a trend--its an investment in our future. The fishing families of southcentral Alaska are independent, small business owners dedicated to the long term sustainability of the salmon stocks, environment and a way of life. Our passion not only preserves our livelihood but also ensures abundance for future generations.
Counting Around the Clock: The Miles Lake Sonar
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) manages fishery resources within state waters. Given the vastness of the state, ADF&G researchers use several methods to assess salmon populations. These vary based on the region and the inherent characteristics of the waterways at hand. Biologists collect and analyze age, sex, weight and length data from salmon to create models that help forecast runs in coming seasons. They monitor harvest trends closely, comparing number of fish caught in each area to historical trends. They also use aerial surveys and other tools to monitor salmon runs. On the Copper, the most critical tool is the Miles Lake sonar.
The Copper River Drainage system extends about 300 miles from its mountain headwaters to the vast Gulf of Alaska. The ecosystem is rugged and the waters are cold, rapid and steep. Due to the large drainage area and turbid conditions, the Copper River carries the highest silt load of any river in Alaska. All of these conditions make the Miles Lake sonar, two sophisticated devices that use sound waves to locate fish traveling underwater, essential to management of the Copper River salmon fishery. With this sonar, biologists count fish ‘round the clock May through July each season, thus ensuring that ADF&G has the best possible escapement information. Sonar counts are relayed daily to fishery managers in Cordova and they use this data to make fishery management decisions in real time.
Throughout the season, biologists compare daily sonar counts to the count needed to achieve the in-river goal. If counts are near expected and other indicators (such as historical harvest data) suggest the salmon run is strong, ADF&G announces a commercial fishery opener within the coming days. If counts are below expected and other indicators are unfavorable, the commercial fishery remains closed until more salmon make it upriver.
In this way, the Copper River salmon run is managed sustainably year after year.