KODIAK — The Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak has been awarded a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct an 18-month study of sockeye salmon returns in the Buskin River.

Sun’aq CEO Robert Polasky said the study is the first step in the creation of a program to halt the decline in Buskin sockeye salmon returns.

“The buskin’s a major subsistence fishery for our tribal members,” he said. “A lot of our folks, this is where they want to put their net in because it’s so close to town.”

Sockeye salmon are the primary target for subsistence fishermen granted a fishing preference by the federal government, but returns have generally fallen since 2002 and particularly since 2007, the last time sockeye returns varied from their decline. The Buskin River is home to the largest subsistence fishery in the Kodiak archipelago.

Polasky said the study will begin in May and be overseen by Sun’aq natural resources director Rick Rowland, with help from an assistant to be hired for the project. Following the study, the pair will draft a plan to restore the river’s salmon returns. That plan, according to initial documents, will end with a “pilot habitat restoration/salmon enhancement process.”

Salmon enhancement techniques used elsewhere in Kodiak have included fertilizing lakes to create plankton for feeding sockeye, altering rivers to make them more attractive to spawning salmon, and seeding areas with fertilized eggs.

Donn Tracy, sport fish management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak, said Sun’aq has not yet begun working with his department on an enhancement project, but he said they may do so in the future. He cautioned that any salmon enhancement project, such as the hatchery smolt raised by the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, can take a long time to draft.

“There’s permitting involved, then there’s regulatory policy,” he said. “It’s always a very scrutinized process when we undertake any of these projects.”

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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