Village, industry partner to fund Igushik Tower for 2016 season

May 19, 2016

Igushik Tower at Amanka Lake latest in string of Bristol Bay management operations that private partners have stepped in to fund after state cuts.

A technician counts fish from the tower on the Igushik River just below Amanka Lake. The technique has been used since the 1950's, and gives Fish and Game accurate information on sockeye escapement.
Credit courtesty ADF&G

KDLG: It was announced Tuesday that there will now be a counting tower on the Igushik River this coming commercial salmon season. Igushik was one of several counting projects that was cut by the Department of Fish and Game as it dealt with a smaller operating budget this year.

A partnership between two processors, the village of Manokotak, the Bristol Bay Native Association, and the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute will fund and run the tower instead of Fish and Game.

"I think this was led by BBNA to develop this agreement," said area manager Tim Sands. "BBSRI is going to manage the tower, but it's the village of Manokotak, Trident, and Peter Pan, they're the ones putting up the cash money."

Sands estimates it has cost ADF&G $45-60,000 per season to run Igushik tower in the past. Fish and Game also cut funding for the counting tower on the Togiak River, but private partners have stepped in to fund that one as well.

"Both these towers are being operated this year based on contributions from the villages and the processors that have stakes in the operations," said Sands. "We certainly are thrilled to see that they are operating."

ADF&G relies on towers, staffed with people staring down at the water, to count the number of sockeye that have “escaped” into the river to spawn. The method has been used since the 1950’s in Bristol Bay, and has proven effective, reliable, and relatively cheap. Without the escapement data from the tower, Fish and Game would likely have taken a conservative approach to managing the fishery, meaning less fishing time as it erred on the side of getting enough sockeye up the river.

"We can use other things, like catch-per-unit effort and aerial surveys, but having the tower information to confirm what we think we're seeing really makes a big difference, and allows us to be very confident in what we're doing," Sands said.

All four west side counting projects are now back online for this season: the Nushagak River sonar starts operations on June 6; the Wood River tower begins counting on the 13; the Igushik River tower on June 22, and Togiak River tower on July 1.

Reach the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.