Unalaska's first drone-operated salmon survey is now underway.
The Unalaska Native Fishermen's Association (UNFA) has hired Andy Dietrick — of Aleutian Aerial LLC — to capture video of salmon habitat at Unalaska Lake, Summer Bay Lake, and Morris Cove.
The goal is to estimate the size of the island's largely unmonitored fish populations. To collect that data, Dietrick is filming in a 35-millimeter format that approaches "cinema quality."
"We're throwing the highest end of technology at this," said Dietrick at a recent UNFA meeting. "The video is 6K resolution, and it's a 24-megapixel camera. We're still just looking down at water with a polarizer, but it will give us all the advantages that we can possibly have."
Dietrick also said he's shooting at a high frame rate, so biologists will be able to pause the footage and count individual salmon without any blur.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) hopes to gauge the number of sockeye and potentially coho, but biologists won't use the data for any kind of in-season management.
"We're doing habitat surveys around the edge of the lake. It's not like we're going to make some decision about whether people can go out and get their fish," said Dietrick. "But I think ADFG is looking at that in the future."
ADFG may also expand drone surveys to McLees Lake. Biologists weren't able to monitor that run this summer after losing funding for the Wislow fish weir.
Officials will weigh potential expansion this fall after reviewing drone data and funding options.
Meanwhile, UNFA is considering whether to apply for nonprofit status under section 501(c)(3) of the federal Internal Revenue Code.
UNFA already receives about $20,000 each year through the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association. But members said becoming an official nonprofit could open the door to grant funding, including grants from the City of Unalaska.