Fish Radio
Sonar website gives virtual tours of AK rivers
April 24, 2015

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Take a tour of Alaska’s 15 sonar sites on 13 rivers. More after this —

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 Most people don’t know that Alaska fishery managers operate 15 sonar sites on 13 rivers from Southeast to the Yukon – or that Alaska pioneered the use of sonars to track salmon.

 “We write these wonderful reports and we communicate with other scientists but if your user groups don’t know what you’re doing, really what good is it.”

 Debby Burwen is a research biologist with Fish and Game’s sport fish division. For more than 40 years managers have used sonar as a tool to track salmon run strength in silty rivers where the salmon can’t be seen. But sometimes conditions are so harsh, the equipment can’t operate properly, such as on the Yukon.

 “In particular that site there at pilot station is a mile wide and the bottom – you almost have to imagine sand dunes changing in a wind storm. It’s a very dynamic, tough environment, but that is where they need to count the salmon because it’s where the information does them the most good. They are trying to ensure that enough fish escape to Canada so they have to regulate the fishing that goes on in Alaska in order to do that they have to know how many fish are coming into the river.”

Burwen says people also don’t realize that managers never depend solely on sonar information especially on the more complicated rivers, like the Kenai and the Yukon.

 “But the public doesn’t know that. They just think that once again the sonar is broken, fish and game doesn’t know what it’s doing … and I thought if we had a better outreach program people would understand that this is a tool that can’t operate perfectly in all conditions.

 To eliminate the many misconceptions, Fish and Game has developed a sonar website.

 “That is the main goal. There are so many people who think all sonars are created equal so perhaps when we do have a problem on the Yukon they look askance at all sonars when in fact that is not the case. Some are very straightforward and reliable and consistently accurate. “

 The sonar web site, funded with grant money from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund, lets visitors see three different types of sonars at work. One click takes you on a virtual tour of every river where sonar is used.

 You’ll also find brochures and radio shows for each river by freelance producer Patrice Kohl. Find links at

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods. Ocean Beauty has contributed over 10 million meals to the U.S. Food Bank network, and is committed to ending hunger in America.     In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.