Conserving the world’s largest wild salmon population
and the ecosystem they support
The Last Great Fishery The Last Great Fishery is the product of Southwest Alaska’s thousands of pristine rivers, lakes and streams that are home to tens of millions of salmon. Southwest Alaska abounds with natural resources, diverse habitats, world-class recreation and a rich culture and history. Covering 40 million acres, an area the size of Washington state, this sub-continent of hundreds of rivers, lakes, and streams with crystalline waters supports a rich mix of fish and wildlife including wild salmon, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, Arctic char, grayling, lake trout and northern pike as well as brown bears, caribou, moose, and a myriad of migratory birds.
Southwest Alaska is the world's greatest stronghold of wild salmon, with all five Pacific salmon species flourishing. In peak years over 100 million salmon return to these waters to spawn and perpetuate their life cycle. A key component of the ecosystem, salmon drive the region's ecology, economy and culture. Nowhere else does society depend on such a group of wild fish.
Abundant salmon have supported indigenous people for millennia and a rich commercial fishery since the 19th century. A top fishing destination, thousands of anglers visit Southwest Alaska each year for its world-class fishing. The Conservation Fund’s Save the Last Great Fishery effort is working to insure that the future of wild salmon, the region’s magnificent landscapes, the abundant wildlife, and the revered culture that rely upon them, thrive the way they are today and for generations to come.
Rivers of Life 137 species of wildlife are known to depend on healthy salmon populations. Southwest Alaska is home to one of the world’s most diverse and bountiful arrays of fish and wildlife including an abundance of brown bears, foxes, wolves, otters, rainbow trout, grayling, Dolly Varden, migratory birds and raptors – and all depend on healthy salmon populations. When salmon return to the rivers of Southwest Alaska to spawn and die, their decaying carcasses release a wealth of nutrients that fortify the rivers they traverse. Spawning salmon leave behind not only the gift of life in another generation, but an abundance of essential elements like carbon and nitrogen that enrich each river – a river of life – which feeds and perpetuates the natural system that depends on them.
As much as 80 percent of the nutrients for top-of-the food chain consumers, such as brown bears and rainbow trout, are derived from salmon. In spring, young salmon move into lakes and feed voraciously on plankton whose growth largely depends on the nutrients from decomposing salmon. Plants such as spruce, willow, and alder recycle the life-giving nutrients deposited by feasting predators like bears, wolves, eagles, gulls, and ravens. Recycled nitrogen and phosphorus from salmon are partly responsible for the luxurious vegetative growth found along many streams.
Because the region’s pure waters teem with millions of wild salmon and trout, fish are the basis for the ecology, economy, and culture of Southwest Alaska. Subsistence use of fish and wildlife has been a way of life for thousands of years. Commercial fishing, sport-fishing, hunting, wilderness travel and other recreational activities have flourished for decades supporting local people, communities and businesses. Nowhere else in the world do such robust fisheries exist. This abundance over such a grand area is unrivaled. The millions of returning salmon feed bears and bald eagles, their spawn feeds rainbow trout and char, their decaying carcasses release the nutrients, which allow the annual cycle to continue, and their presence nourishes the human body and soul.
Salmon eggs are eaten by 22 species, including several species of waterfowl and fish.
Young salmon in fresh water are eaten by 45 species, including osprey and river otters.
in salt water are eaten by 58 species, including several species of
marine birds, fish and marine mammals like killer whales.
Spawning salmon are eaten by 16 species, including harbor seals and brown and black bears.
Salmon carcasses are eaten by 83 species, including foxes, brown bears and wolves.
The Challenge The Last Great Fishery won’t always exist without our involvement. Southwest Alaska is at a crossroads. Geographic remoteness no longer protects the region from rapid change. Forces that have devastated wild salmon around the world are at work in Southwest Alaska. Alaska and the Federal Government had the foresight to set aside 25 million acres in National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks, and State Parks but despite these priceless public lands and conservation areas, Alaska’s fish, wildlife, and the high quality habitats they depend on face long-term threats which loom on the horizon.
Private land development along rivers and lakes is the most pressing threat to salmon. Hundreds of private tracts that are primarily owned by local Native people and Native corporations and until recently used for subsistence hunting and fishing, are increasingly being sold for speculation and converted to development as local people experience severe economic hardship in one of the Nation’s most impoverished regions. The irreplaceable habitat increasingly is being converted to second homes, lodges, and subdivided for recreational development amid critical habitat. The Last Great Fishery suffers.
Collectively, private lands comprise about 4.55 million acres, or 11 percent, of the region but they disproportionately include the best fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. A small but vital portion of these private lands is essential for sustaining healthy salmon populations. Over the next few years, protection of key habitats, a small percentage of these lands, will largely determine the long-term ecological health of Southwest Alaska and its ability to sustain the Last Great Fishery.
The Solution: Conservation vs. Restoration Unquestionably, the best way to Save the Last Great Fishery and prevent the losses that have occurred everywhere else salmon once thrived is to secure the irreplaceable habitat that supports them. Prevention is always the cheapest, most effective solution for problems whether it is personal health or conservation. The Conservation Fund is working throughout Southwest Alaska to do just that with a multi-year, multi-million dollar salmon habitat conservation program. But we need your involvement.
This sale for development land use pattern is directly reminiscent of the actions that drove salmon into crisis throughout the Pacific Rim, and as history teaches, once healthy salmon habitat is lost, it can never be completely restored. Only by protecting the many magnificent rivers of Southwest Alaska from harmful development can we protect the millions of spawning salmon, the wildlife, and the people who rely on them. Southwest Alaska is unquestionably one of the richest and most dynamic natural systems left in the world. It is worth our support.
Results Alaska is a state of great expanse, and yet, small places matter. To Save the Last Great Fishery, The Conservation Fund, working with our partners, has conserved over 103,000 acres in 87 tracts along internationally renowned waters such as the Alagnak, Agulowak, Agulukpak, Naknek, Kanektok and Togiak Rivers. Many other key properties are in various stages of negotiation. These strategic tracts are vital for the long term sustainability of fish, wildlife, and the region’s great conservation areas; areas important to all of us who value the Last Great Fishery.
The conservation values of the 103,000 acres are significant in their own right; however, the greatest benefits accrue at the watershed level. The strategic importance of the riparian tracts acquired to Save the Last Great Fishery benefits vast tracts of surrounding public land that over time would be degraded from development of the private tracts. A few hundred acres acquired in watersheds that include tens of thousands of acres can have huge benefits. In broad terms, these strategic tracts can provide landscape leverage of 100:1 – a remarkable benefit.
Some examples of conservation success include: In the Wood-Tikchik State Park, the Nation’s largest state park, the Agulowak River is one of the salmon rich jewels of Southwest Alaska. This 4.5-mile long river flows from Lake Nerka to Lake Aleknagik and provides a robust fishery for sport, subsistence and commercial users. The Conservation Fund acquired a conservation easement on 21,400 acres within the Wood-Tikchik State Park including both banks of the Agulowak River and approximately 42 miles of shoreline along Lakes Aleknagik and Nerka. The land has exceptional fish and wildlife values and is heavily used for subsistence and recreation.
The Agulukpak River is one of the highly productive rivers that connects the large lakes of the Wood-Tikchik State Park. The ‘Pak flows two miles from Lake Beverley to Lake Nerka yet provides spawning habitat for up to 650,000 sockeye and supports a high density of rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. The Fund has acquired three of the four privately owned tracts, 310 acres, along the river and is negotiating for the remaining tract.
The Conservation Fund is protecting the conservation values of several Native owned properties along rivers within the Togiak, Becharof and Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuges and Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks. Approximately, seventy tracts have been acquired with a total of 8,000 acres. All of the properties are along the region’s salmon rich rivers, the primary source of salmon for local Native communities, the major supplier of the fish caught commercially, and the source of the popular and productive sport fishery. The Fund and its partners have acquired or are negotiating with property owners along the Alagnak, Goodnews, Kanektok, Arolik, and other salmon rich rivers in Southwest Alaska. All of these rivers are major contributors to the regional fishery. They support the economies and subsistence needs of local communities and are renowned for their sport fisheries.
A Great Investment: Conserving Southwest Alaska Takes All of Us Working Together. Save the Last Great Fishery is the largest land conservation project of its kind—conserving one of the greatest natural landscapes in North America. Private dollars provide the required match to attract funds from state and federal conservation programs and foundations. The Conservation Fund routinely leverages donors’ dollars 10:1 using one private dollar to attract a mix of foundation and federal grant funds. Supporting the Last Great Fishery is a tax-deductible investment offering unsurpassed leverage and on-the-ground results – and most importantly perpetual benefits for all the generations to come.
For many years, The Conservation Fund has been recognized with the highest ratings for efficiency and effectiveness by Charity Navigator and the American Institute of Philanthropy, both charity watch dog organizations.