The Chilkat River weir that Alaska Fish and Game biologists use to count sockeye salmon returns was destroyed by rough waters and loose logs in late September.
Haines Area Management Biologist Mark Sogge says a ‘major flood event’ and the reversal of the outlet stream out of Chilkat Lake are to blame.
“It picked up a bunch of logs that we thought were quite stable and had been stable for a long time and used them as battering rams and smashed down half the weir,” he said.
The weir was destroyed on September 29, about a week before Fish and Game usually wraps up work there. Biologists use the weir to predict future sockeye returns to Chilkat Lake. They do that with sonar video recordings and with a mark-recapture program.
“We use it as a tool to both assess our own success at managing the runs but also to predict into the future what sort of returns we might get from the Lake,” Sogge said.
The weir is located at the outlet of Chilkat Lake. Fish and Game employees use jet boats to access it and set up camp out there.
“We live up there, the guys live out there. So when they woke up in the morning they knew high water was coming. It’s not an uncommon event…that the outlet stream reverses.”
Sogge says because those kinds of events are fairly normal, they were surprised to find the weir smashed and ruined the next morning. He says, luckily it happened at the end of the season.
“Yeah it’s better to keep counting as long as possible but no matter what we always have to shut down at a certain point,” he said. “At this point we had 800, almost 900 fish through on the last day which puts our count up at 135,000 for the year.”
It’s fortunate the destruction didn’t happen earlier in the fishing season. But it’s unfortunate that it happened in the current state financial climate.
“In these times of budget cuts and things like that, it’s very difficult to have any extra funds to rebuild something like this. That’s going to be the hard thing, is finding money to rebuild it.”
Sogge says the water level has been too high in recent weeks to get a complete picture of the damage to the weir. He says he’ll have to fly in divers from Juneau to help discover what work is needed. His first priority is for divers to clear out parts of the weir that are underwater and hazardous to boaters that travel through that area.
“My primary concern right now is that part of the weir is still under the water and there are pieces that are sticking up that could hit a boat.”
Sogge says his efforts to remove the debris didn’t pan out, because the water was too deep. He says boaters in the area should use extra caution.
Even though there’s not a lot of extra money in his budget, Sogge says the weir is critical enough that he will find a way to repair it in time for next fishing season. He says he hopes to rebuild the weir in a way that will make it stronger and better.