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ADFG Won't Operate Salmon Weir At McLees Lake This Summer

May 1, 2018

The sockeye run at Wislow was below average last summer, with 13,195 reds passing through the weir. That met the escapement goal of 10,000 fish, but falls short of the stream's 31,000 average.
Credit KUCB

For the first time in 18 years, Unalaska won't collect detailed data on the salmon run at McLees Lake this summer.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) spent months trying to secure funding for the Wislow fish weir.

But last week, biologist Lisa Fox announced that it was too late to keep searching.

'We were looking at not putting the weir in until the middle of July, which is past the peak of the run," she said. "But we're still hoping to get funding next year. Hopefully, this is just a one-off kind of thing."

Fox said she's optimistic because ADFG has made inroads with the federal Office of Subsistence Management and the City of Unalaska.

Even though neither source committed money this year, she said those potential partners understand the importance of protecting data from Unalaska's only documented salmon stream.

"If we have a one-year gap in the data set, it's not great," she said. "But we can use aerial surveys as a stop gap. If we start getting into two, three, four years of gap, then it becomes this isolated data set that's not very relevant as we go forward."

ADFG plans to fly at least one aerial survey this summer, and drone surveys are also possible. But without the more-accurate weir, Fox said biologists can't adjust their management strategy during the sockeye run.

That means subsistence fishing will be closed within 500 yards of the river mouth July 1-9.

"It's not actually more restricted than normal," said Fox. "It's just a more arbitrary restriction. [July 1-9] is around the average peak time of that run. So if the run comes in normally, that should protect the peak. But if the run's early or late, then we're putting up markers to protect not the peak part of the run."

Fox said she hopes Unalaskans will understand that ADFG is erring on the side of caution this summer.

The weir itself will remain at Wislow in the hopes that it'll be fully funded and back in the water next season.