The great Deception Creek weir debate appears to have reached a resolution by consensus. A meeting was held last week in Willow where all the interested parties and a few observers discussed the issues, probable causes of these problems, and how best to resolve things which satisfied everyone’s concerns.
Key current and former employees of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, representatives of the Deception Creek Eco System Restoration Committee, Borough Assemblyperson Tam Boeve, a couple of Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission members, and a Board of Fisheries member were in attendance.
The meeting was very civil and cordial. Introductions were made around the table and the Northern District Sport Fish Area Management Biologist, Sam Ivey, handed out a document he had compiled which explained the history of the Deception Creek weir, how it was used, numbers of kings taken as broodstock, and escapements counted each year, when possible, of king salmon which were passed through the weir.
Gary Calhoun, the chief spokesperson for the DCESRC, presented the local area folks’ concerns about how no fish have been seen in the upper reaches of Deception Creek since the weir was installed, how bears had been killing off the moose in the area, how ADF&G had declined their permit request to restock fry and/or fingerlings back into upper Deception Creek, and how ADF&G had, so far, refused to remove the weir.
After positions were stated, the real discussions began. One thing that I didn’t know beforehand was that the weir was only in the creek for three weeks each year, and only used to help collect broodstock for the annual king salmon eggtake each season. The comments that the weir was preventing the passage of the other four salmon species proved unfounded since the weir was not present when those other species of fish were moving into and up Deception Creek.
Bob Chlupach, a retired ADF&G biologist with extensive salmon research experience in the Northern District, explained that some gravel beds in different sections of Deception Creek were not the greatest spawning gravel. The environmental conditions of type of gravel, shading, water temperatures, and other factors probably had a major bearing on fish use of sections of Deception Creek, especially in the upper reaches of concern to the local folks.
It was also mentioned that both bear and moose population numbers were relatively high, so a greater number of predations were probably happening, resulting in the bear kills locals had been seeing.
The ADF&G folks explained that they had a financial investment in the hatchery fish that had been released into Deception Creek and needed to utilize them responsibly. They also explained that, since the downturn in returning king salmon numbers over the past several years, king numbers in Willow and Deception Creeks were significantly decreased. With the closure of sport fishing for kings this year to protect wild stocks, the returning hatchery fish would not be caught and, thus, not used to enhance the sports fishery.
The ADF&G biologists proposed this solution: since they only anticipated hatchery fish returning to Deception Creek for two or possibly three more years, the weir would only be installed for those two years to collect hatchery fish for broodstock. The wild fish would all be passed through the weir. Further, the weir would only be in place for two weeks and then removed.
By the end of the 2020, or possibly, the 2021 king salmon eggtake time periods, the weir would be pulled and would not be used again until such time as king returns rebounded to their former numbers and the Deception Creek king salmon eggtake program was deemed necessary to restart.
When asked if this proposal was an acceptable consensus compromise to everyone, the Deception Creek folks were split, some thought it was acceptable while others felt it was perpetuating the weir. They wanted to see how things would work out this year. The ADF&G folks agreed to the consensus and most of the observers were satisfied that all parties’ concerns were being met over the next couple of years.
Several offers were made by the local folks to show the ADF&G biologists the conditions they were seeing on the creek. The biologists accepted the offers and further offered to do some minnow trapping to see where the early life stage fish were rearing in the creek.
The meeting concluded very cordially with the locals and ADF&G committing to work together more closely to resolve the issues.