A rainbow among seine boats appears near Jack Bay in Prince William Sound on Monday, July 29, 2019. File photo by Alys Smith for The Cordova Times

A project to remove culverts in the Cordova area posing a barrier to migrating coho salmon will be underway this spring and summer, with the Copper River Watershed Project (CRWP) and The Eyak Corp. funded through a $4.3 million federal fisheries grant. 

NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Habitat Conservation announced on Tuesday that its investment in the long-term survival of Copper River salmon will support a $20 million commercial fishing industry and support dozens of related jobs.   

With this project NOAA and its partners are focused on removing culverts that block access to spawning grounds and cold-water rearing habitat for juvenile salmon. CRWP’s Kate Morse said coho salmon are the main focus of the spring projects. 

Last year the CRWP completed another NOAA-funded project, opening up over 70 miles of stream to migratory salmon.  

This summer CRWP will work with The Eyak Corp. on new fish passage projects, using the $4.3 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act. 

Their to-do list includes removal of four road culverts blocking fish passage, primarily of coho salmon, at road-stream crossings, creation of engineering designs for restoration projects at 12 additional sites and opening up 31 stream miles and 740 lake areas to migratory fish once all projects are complete. Plans also include reduction of risk of flooding and washouts on roads which are the only connection between isolated communities and important resources, and improvement of access to subsistence fishing opportunities. 

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NOAA officials noted that while Copper River salmon are not listed under the Endangered Species Act that there has been a decline in the numbers and size of salmon, plus an uptick in disease. 

NOAA Fisheries allocated over $34 million for disaster declarations in the Copper River and Prince William Sound salmon fisheries in 2018 and 2020, while acknowledging the impact of ocean warming, residual effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, polluted runoff, and habitat fragmentation on the salmon. NOAA Fisheries and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game also conduct ocean surveys to monitor juvenile salmon abundance. 

CRWP has collaborated before with NOAA on culvert replacement projects, but the additional recent funding will help to speed the pace of restoration of salmon habitat, NOAA officials said. 

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