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A 30 year tradition: From the Kenai River Festival to Fair

The Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association will focus on invasive pike as part of the public demonstrations at its booth this year.

by | June 11, 2024

Attendees to the Kenai River Fair learning about some of the habitat work CIAA does. Cathy Cline.
Attendees to the Kenai River Fair learning about some of the habitat work CIAA does. Cathy Cline.

The Kenai River Fair looks a lot different than its inception in 1994 when it went by the name Kenai River Festival. The Kenai Watershed Forum (KWF) switched gears this year to bring the event back to its original focus on education around the Kenai River and surrounding area. 

Staff from the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) have been participating in the Kenai River festivities for some time. We first started by partnering with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) to conduct sockeye salmon dissections.

Over time it turned into CIAA staff leading those dissections twice on Saturday for those interested in stopping by and learning all about salmon anatomy and similarities we have with them! We even used to give away filets after the dissections were complete, which folks really enjoyed. 

This year, due to the format change of the event we decided to switch it up as well. Kids already do a lot of salmon dissections in their classrooms as part of the Salmon in the Classroom program or during the fishing season as they help process the family catch. 

Instead of repeating this exercise, we wanted to focus on a large portion of the field work we conduct—invasive northern pike suppression. 

Simulated Pike Camp

Visitors to our booth included kids and adults, although the kids were always more eager to get hands-on and participate in the activity, but I am always happy to share about the work that is happening to combat invasive pike in order to ease the pressure on the salmon population. 

We created a mock “invasive northern pike suppression camp” and those that wanted to try got to experience what our field crews experience on a daily basis. They had to remove stuffed northern pike from a gillnet then work them up by collecting their length, weight, determining their sex, and what they had been eating by assessing stomach contents. 

Although booth visitors got to experience what it may be like working at a field camp they were spared the slimy, wiggling pike as they removed them from the net and the smell that comes from handling hundreds, maybe even thousands of northern pike in a season. 

Not only that but visitors got to see the size difference between young-of-the-year pike compared to young-of-the year salmon. This really made an impression about how detrimental northern pike can be in places where they do not belong. 

3-4 month old invasive pike
The top photo is 3-4 month old invasive northern pike taken from Shell Lake in the Susitna River watershed. It is already capable of consuming salmon fry! In comparison, the bottom photo is of a 3 month old sockeye salmon.

Why northern pike are considered invasive? 

CIAA has been working to suppress invasive northern pike populations since the mid-2000s. You may already know but the problem with pike is that they don’t belong in Southcentral Alaska and they cause a lot of headaches for resource managers. 

Pike are really great at preying on juvenile salmon and other native fish species. While there are currently no known populations of pike on the Kenai Peninsula they are still abundant throughout Southcentral, particularly the Susitna River watershed, which is prime pike habitat—shallow, slow-moving water with interconnected lakes. 

Not the only ones working on the problem

CIAA is not the only organization working to suppress northern pike populations across Southcentral Alaska. There are a number of different organizations using different means to obtain the same goal of pike suppression and even eradication where possible. The Alaska Invasive Species Partnership is one group that brings multiple different stakeholders together to keep everyone informed and coordinated of the work being conducted. 

Maybe you visited CIAA’s booth or another that talked about invasive species and you were left wondering what impact you could have and how you can help? 

The simplest way is to keep your eyes peeled when you are out recreating and to practice clean, drain, dry and play, clean, go techniques to limit the amount of spread throughout the area. 

If you do see an invasive species, please report it by visiting the ADF&G website or call the Invasive Species Hotline at 1-877-INVASIV (1-877-468-2748). 

Learn More

Check out the work CIAA has been doing to help combat invasive northern pike within the Cook Inlet drainage by visiting our website.

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