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After A Rocky Start, Unalaska’s Subsistence Salmon Run Hits Target Escapement



While Unalaska’s biggest subsistence salmon run got off to a slow start this season, it’s now at a sustainable level.

The start of the McLees Lake run was so low, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order early this month to protect the area around the mouth of the creek.

While there are a lot of factors at play, biologist Colton Lipka says low water could have affected the run and they are seeing that in places like the Orzinski Bay Weir near the Shumagin Islands.

“They’re facing a similar situation as far as kind of low water,” Lipka said. “The fish are doing a trickle in rather than big pulses and pushes.”

In Unalaska, the McLees run met the goal for minimum escapement on Friday and restrictions have been lifted. So far more than 11,000 sockeye have passed through the weir.

While Lipka says this year’s run is below average, it is not the lowest recorded. For now, Fish and Game has opened subsistence salmon fishing in the waters of Reese Bay up to the McLees Lake stream output.

Lipka says this is the department’s final year using Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund money for the project. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is in the process of securing other funds, but if they are unsuccessful Lipka says the weir won’t operate next year; instead, they would monitor the run through aerial surveys.

Zoë Sobel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2019. She returned to KUCB after a year living in Nepal and Malaysia as a Luce Scholar. She then returned to KUCB as a ProPublica reporter August of 2020 through August of 2021.
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