Several of us chartered a float plane in Kodiak, the main city on Kodiak Island, Alaska – to the southwest of Anchorage – to fly us to Frazer Lake where the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) a number of years ago built a fish ladder after stocking the barren lake with salmon eggs and fry. The annual salmon run has attracted a large number of Kodiak brown bears who come to the weir and feast on salmon. This was an excellent photography trip and an educational experience as we learned about the ADF&G efforts to constructively manage the local ecosystem.
From the ADF&G signpost: “The 30-foot Frazer Falls once prevented sockeye salmon from reaching Frazer Lake, but a vision and hard work created a dynamic fishery. Frazer Lake was barren of sockeye salmon until 1951, when biologists stocked the lake with eggs and fry. Mature salmon returned to spawn in 1956, but could not complete their journey, so scientists backpacked them around the falls. To enable returning salmon to reach Frazer Lake on their own, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game designed a fish pass in the early 1960s. In 1964, returning adult salmon ascended the new fish pass without assistance to spawn. ADF&G made numerous improvements over the years to ease passage around the falls and strengthen the salmon run. Today, the immense Frazer fish pass increases spawning and rearing habitat for this population of sockeye salmon. It provides additional fish for harvest each year and supports the fourth largest sockeye run on Kodiak, substantially benefitting the local economy.”
Through their life cycle, salmon help sustain the Kodiak community. Every summer adult salmon return to Frazer Falls from the Pacific Ocean to lay and fertilize their eggs. The spawning salmon die, leaving their carcasses. Bears, foxes, ravens, eagles, and insects thrive off of the energy-rich remains of spawned-out salmon. Animals leave scat and their own bodies that decay and provide energy for plants. Alevins (a young fish; especially, a newly hatched salmon when still attached to the yolk sac) hatch in the spring. Salmon fry eat insects and grow in the shade of plants that received energy from decaying salmon. Within about two years fry mature into smolt and leave for the sea. Sockeye salmon spend one to four years growing strong at sea before returning to the rivers where they were hatched.
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