Flooding's toll on future fish runs uncertain

Posted: Friday, October 25, 2002

High water on area rivers could impact juvenile salmon, but so far, area biologists aren't overly concerned with how future runs will be affected by this week's flooding.

Determining to what extent salmon populations are affected by floods is a tricky thing to quantify, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game area biologist Larry Marsh. Marsh said Thursday that the department is hopeful flooding won't reach a level that will significantly affect future salmon populations.

"At this point, we're cautiously optimistic," Marsh said.

In 1995, heavy flooding on the Kenai River may have contributed to high mortality rates among juvenile salmon. However, Marsh said the Kenai River so far has not reached a flood stage considered dangerous for the salmon.

"At this point, the amount (of flooding) hasn't approached what we had in '95," he said.

Marsh said the main danger to salmon stocks from flooding is to juvenile salmon and salmon eggs. Small fish can become stranded along the shore, injured by a large amount of debris or prevented from feeding properly.

"It just beats the crap out of 'em," he said.

Eggs, on the other hand, can be buried by silt or washed away.

However, at this point, Marsh said there's no reason to believe recent flooding will have a major effect on future salmon returns. "You need to get some really tremendous water flows," he said.

He did caution that can all change if the peninsula continues to be inundated by heavy rains.

"We've just got to wait and see," he said.

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