Students identify salmon habitat

By Lareyn Mangrobang, Justin Lim, Hector Rodriguez and Laura Bowman
For The Cordova Times

Even though the weather on Tuesday, Sept. 6 was cloudy and rainy, 30 students in grades 7-10 from Cordova Junior/Senior High School stayed outside all day for the Salmon Blitz, working to identify salmon habitat.

At every site, students split into two groups, one going upstream and one downstream. The students walked in the river, sometimes waist or chest-deep. They used a GPS to find flagging on the trees that showed where fish traps were located, and then they pulled the traps up. The students measured the fish and recorded data into a sheet. At each trap the students traded jobs — catching fish, measuring fish, photographing and measuring water in the stream. While they worked, students also picked up trash in the river.

Each student took a turn measuring fish.
Each student took a turn measuring fish.

The first site was West Fork at 18 Mile. This location had the highest number of fish — 155 total. One student recalls being surprised that the last two traps on his line had more than 20 fish each. He also relates that the third trap was hard to find at first because his team went straight past it and only the two students looking at the GPS saw the trap. One student said, “It’s fun to use waders, I can’t explain it.”

Another site was the stream by the city dump. Students found sticklebacks, cohos, dollies and sculpin — the only sculpin reported. A student recalls that one group of five were looking at their GPS upside down and had trouble finding the first trap. Another challenge was that it was hard to see because of fog and rain, and students got hit in the face with branches in the dense bushes.

The last site was Power Creek. One of the students reports that he enjoyed going across the river because it was scary and fun at the same time. In the middle of the river there was a gap between two rocks, and the current was strong so it was hard for him to reach the gap. Thankfully, another student was waiting on the other side of the gap to help him. Students also found it unusual that one group found only dollies and sticklebacks (no salmon) in their traps.


The data that students collected will be used by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which manages the Anadromous Waters Catalog, a list of all the streams and rivers in Alaska where anadromous fish live. Anadromous fish such as trout and salmon have a complex life cycle where they migrate between freshwater and saltwater, laying eggs and spawning in rivers and maturing in the ocean. There are 35,600 miles of streams in the Copper River Watershed, but only 6 percent are listed as having salmon and/or trout. In fact, half of the area where salmon live is not listed in the Anadromous Waters Catalog. The students’ work is important because they have documented salmon habitat not listed in the Anadromous Waters Catalog. Habitat listed in the Anadromous Waters Catalog receives special protection so that anadromous fish populations can continue to thrive.

Salmon Blitz is coordinated by the Copper River Watershed Project with support from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Prince William Sound Science Center, Native Village of Eyak, U.S. Forest Service, and other regional partners. Funding is provided by the North Pacific Research Board.