Upper Talarik only small part of larger habitat

Posted: Monday, July 18, 2005

While Upper Talarik Creek is salmon-spawning habitat, it is not as important to fisheries as other creeks and streams in the Iliamna Lake drainage system, according to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist.

Craig Schwanke, assistant Alaska Sport Fish Division area management biologist in Dillingham, said that the Upper Talarik is a spawning site for sockeye salmon, along with some kings and cohoes, all of which reach the sea at Bristol Bay. But it is Lower Talarik Creek, about 10 miles to the east, that has become world famous for rainbow trout in the fall, he said.

Nevertheless, the Upper Talarik draws its share of sport fish enthusiasts in search of rainbows, too, Schwanke said.

Both creeks are but small parts of the whole Iliamna Lake drainage that historically has been one of the largest sockeye producers in the world, although in the past five years escapement numbers have been down, Schwanke noted.

Northern Dynasty Mines Inc. is conducting numerous data-collection projects in and around its proposed open pit mine north of Iliamna Lake in an effort to learn all it can about area streams, creeks and rivers, including the Upper Talarik.

The data will help establish reliable scientific and socioeconomic baselines about such things as fish and game habitats and water resources, and their use by residents and visitors.

For instance, consultants working for NDM have been talking to local villagers, lodge owners and fishing guides to better understand sport fish use, said NDM's Environmental Project Manager Ella Ede. Subsistence use is also part of that study, she said.

Meanwhile, other fieldwork involves collecting water samples to establish the presence of trace elements such as arsenic and heavy metals. That baseline data would be used when comparing water samples from future monitoring surveys to determine if mining operations were having any negative impact on groundwater, Ede said.

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