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After another slow start to the season, salmon hit escapement goal at McLees Lake

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Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska
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Fisheries technicians count salmon at the McLees Lake weir.

In a historically late push, almost 3,000 sockeye salmon came through the weir at McLees Lake on Sunday. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says the salmon run in Unalaska is now at a sustainable level and fishing restrictions have been lifted.

“Seeing that big push yesterday was unexpected because it's so late in the season,” said Tyler Lawson, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands. “Usually [at] the end of July we're talking about taking down the weir because 99% of the run has passed and we're about out of fish.”

Lawson wasn’t the only one who was surprised by the sudden influx of fish. Kanesia McGlashan Price is a fisheries technician at McLees Lake. She’s been counting fish as they swim through the weir since early June.

She says they weren’t expecting to meet the escapement goal this year. “At the beginning of the season we were passing like 10 fish a day. We were actually thinking it was going to be a lower year,” she said. “So this is really exciting that they're continuing moving.”

In the past few years, more and more fish have been showing up at the weir later in the summer. Lawson says it’s hard to know what’s causing the shift.

“One thing could be the weather or possibly climate out in the ocean, causing fish to hang out there for a longer period of time before they make their way back to the fresh waters of McLees to begin spawning,” said Lawson.

Though it was a slow start to the season, over 12,000 sockeye salmon have passed through the weir so far this year as of July 24.

Fish and Game has opened subsistence salmon fishing in the waters of Reese Bay up to the McLees Lake stream output.

Laurelin Kruse is a writer and radio producer from rural Colorado. She has a BA in American Studies from Yale, and she learned radio at the Transom Story Workshop in Massachusetts, where she reported stories for the local public radio station. Kruse is excited to spend the summer roaming the tundra and doing stories for the Unalaska community.
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