What is FishWatch?

FishWatch was initiated out of a need to address an important question to Copper River residents: “How can we maintain the healthy fish resources that are important to our cultures, lifestyles, and livelihoods?” Using EPA approved protocols, FishWatch trains local volunteers to systematically collect baseline data on water quality and human use in the Copper River Watershed. Eventually this data can be used to track and assess long term trends and to monitor changes in water quality and resource use.

The FishWatch program monitors fish habitat trends by assessing the water quality data and human use levels in the Copper River watershed. By researching historical data and initiating a mechanism to collect current data, the Copper River Watershed Project will be able to detect early warning signs of fish habitat degradation and distribute this information to watershed residents.

Five study questions guide FishWatch:

  1. What are the baseline fish habitat conditions in selected streams and lakes in the Copper River watershed?
  2. What are the current use levels of boaters and fishers on selected streams and lakes in the Copper River watershed?
  3. What is the amount of increase of boat traffic and fishing effort on selected streams and lakes in the Copper River watershed?
  4. What is the amount of increase of residential development around selected water bodies in the region?
  5. Are there sites that would benefit from restoration and further analysis?

Planning Team Helps to Launch FishWatch

A planning team was organized in the fall of 2001 to develop the FishWatch project. They guided the program to represent accurately the needs and threats concerning the Copper River watershed’s fish habitat. The planning team, comprised of state and federal biologists, resource managers, Native representatives, and fishermen, met throughout the fall and winter of 2001-2002 to choose the monitoring sites and indicators. They advised the Copper River Watershed Project on equipment and training options and relayed information from previous fish habitat studies in the area. The planning team now serves as a FishWatch advisory group.

Planning Team Members:

  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve
  • Alaska Department of Fish and Game
  • University of Alaska, Cooperative Extension Office
  • Mt. Sanford Tribal Consortium
  • Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation
  • Ahtna Corporation
  • Native Village of Eyak
  • Chugach National Forest/ Cordova Ranger District
  • Commercial fishermen
  • Watershed residents
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Monitoring Water Quality

Trained volunteers monitor water quality perameters important for fish habitat:

  • Nitrate
  • Temperature
  • Turbidity
  • pH
  • Dissolved oxygen
  • Aquatic insects
  • Bank vegetation

Monitoring Human Use

Charter operators, rafting guides, campground hosts, and residents monitor the number of fishers and boaters on popular tributaries and the main stem of the Copper River.