October 8, 2020|By Ann Simonelli| Wildlife

Savoring Salmon Starts With Supporting Healthy Fish

Protecting internationally important salmon habitat in Alaska

10 8 20 Salmon Lake Illiama AK c Jason ChingSockeye Salmon in Alaska's Lake Illiama. Photo by Jason Ching.

Southwest Alaska, including the Alaska Peninsula and Bristol Bay, is remote, pristine and considered to be the world’s greatest stronghold of wild salmon. All five of the Pacific salmon species are abundant and widespread across thousands of pristine rivers, lakes and streams. The geographic remoteness of these critical lands and waters no longer shields the region from rapid change, and the area is increasingly being threatened by private development and conversion.

Over the last three decades, we’ve worked in partnership with Native village corporations to protect the most important salmon habitat, including an archipelago of islands on Iliamna Lake and lands along the Agulowak River within Wood-Tikchik State Park. We often use conservation easements as a tool to provide both economic and environmental benefits. The easements bar development on these lands, protecting the natural habitats for salmon and other wildlife, while providing critical capital to the Native village corporations who continue to own and use the land for cultural, subsistence and recreational activities.
10 8 20 Iliamna c Brad Meiklejohn 1Lake Iliamna. Photo by Brad Meiklejohn.

Developing sustainable ways to raise salmon on land in West Virginia

10 8 20 FreshwaterInstitute DaveHarp031Recirculating aquaculture systems at Freshwater Institute. Photo by Dave Harp.

Our appetite for salmon greatly surpasses the amount we produce. In fact, the U.S. imports 98% of the Atlantic salmon we eat. Transporting all of that fish to our plates has a huge carbon footprint. Our Freshwater Institute, based in Shepherdstown, W.V., has focused on increasing the sustainability of the domestic seafood supply through environmentally responsible aquaculture, with support from the USDA Agricultural Research Service. That means raising fish in tanks on land, where water is continuously recycled and waste can be used as fertilizer for farms. Fish can be raised in recirculating aquaculture systems without the use of pesticides or harsh chemicals, and the technology can be used anywhere. Check out this video to find out more about our Freshwater Institute and how we are working towards a sustainable, local way to farm healthy fish that’s good for people, our economy and the environment.

Saving the endangered California coho salmon

Over the last decade, we’ve worked to improve and restore aquatic habitat for the critically endangered Central California Coast coho salmon in the rivers and tributaries of the Fund’s 24,000-acre Garcia River Forest in Mendocino County. But this struggling population faces additional challenges when droughts cause lower flows within rivers and streams, limiting access for the coho to migrate upstream to spawn. When fewer fish return to a stream, the likelihood of inbreeding increases, which causes less offspring and genetic defects that weaken the overall population even further.
10 8 20 IMG 0747Capturing salmon in the Garcia River. Photo by Heather Gately, The Nature Conservancy.

In 2019, we partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, North Coast Water Quality Control Board, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, The Nature Conservancy and Mendocino Redwood Company in an effort to increase diversity in coho salmon populations found in the Garcia River that runs through our forest. Approximately 200 juvenile coho were removed from the Garcia and nearby Navarro Rivers and transported to a hatchery, where scientists tagged, genotyped and created a genetic breeding matrix for each fish—a scientific spreadsheet that identifies compatible mating pairs based on each fish’s genetic makeup. The fish were raised to adulthood and will be released back into the rivers this winter with their previously identified salmon pair who is least likely to be their cousin. Our hope is that this effort will supplement the natural coho salmon populations in these rivers, increase genetic variability for the species, and hopefully kick-start recovery of the population.

10 8 20 DJI 0125The juvenile coho salmon collected in the Garcia and Navarro Rivers for the genotyping project were weighed, measured, and electronically tagged so they could be tracked throughout their time in the hatchery. Photo by Heather Gately, The Nature Conservancy.

Clearing the way upstream for Maine’s Atlantic salmon

10 8 20 Atlantic Salmon Adult Wild Origin Hatchery Broodstock Bein copyBiologist with an adult Atlantic salmon of wild origin hatchery broodstock. Photo courtesy atlanticsalmonrestoration.org.

We own more than 92,000 acres of forestland in Maine through our Working Forest Fund program, and within those forests are hundreds of miles of rivers, streams and tributaries that play an important role in the life cycles of fish species, like the endangered Atlantic salmon. Together with our local partners, we are working to fix blockages on freshwater streams that prevent salmon from migrating upstream to spawn. These efforts have helped to open the watersheds of the Mattawamkeag, Pleasant and Penobscot Rivers, allowing Atlantic salmon, brook trout and other organisms to swim hundreds of miles inland to return to these historic spawning areas. Once a waterway is opened, the fish can start to return almost immediately. Coupled with the “seeding” of Atlantic salmon eggs into these waterways by our partners, these efforts will help to support the health and vitality of fish populations across the watershed.

Are you hungry for more? Keep reading about The Conservation Fund’s efforts related to salmon:

Restoring Hope for Brook Trout and Endangered Atlantic Salmon by Tom Duffus

Healthy Salmon, Healthy Oceans, Healthy Humans by Steve Summerfelt

What’s for Dinner Tonight? Local, Sustainable, Healthy Salmon by Alterra Hetzel

Seafood Differently by Jeffrey Lewis

Written By

Ann Simonelli

As Media Relations Director for The Conservation Fund, Ann oversees organizational strategy for messaging and outreach to news media. She enjoys telling stories of how conservation brings people and groups together to achieve meaningful benefits for both wildlife and communities.