All The Fish

Back to School

New culvert to benefit future generations of fish, Southeast Alaskans

a bus drives over an arched culvert through which a salmon stream passes
Salmon swim through a new channel-spanning arch culvert over Peterson Creek in Sitka, Alaska while a bus takes kids to school overhead. 📷 Sitka Conservation Society/Lione Clare

A fish passage project here was recently completed…just in time for salmon returning to spawn and Sitka’s youth returning to school.

Salmon migrate under a culvert over big gravel
Pink Salmon move up Peterson Creek through the new culvert. 📷 Sitka Conservation Society/Lione Clare
a stream pours out of 3 round culverts
Example of undersized, perched culverts constricting a stream’s flow and presenting jump and velocity barriers for juvenile fish and other weak swimmers. 📷 USFWS/Katrina Liebich
a small spotted fish in a net
A Juvenile Dolly Varden from Peterson Creek netted and safely transported out of the construction zone by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 📷 Sitka Conservation Society/Lione Clare

“If there’s one thing that Alaskans can rally around, it’s salmon. These projects are a win-win for both salmon and infrastructure stability in communities.” — Andy Stevens, Fish Biologist, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

With community support from the Sitka Economic Development Association, Sitka Chamber of Commerce, and Sitka Conservation Society, and assistance from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, City and Borough of Sitka, and Marble Construction came together to restore fish passage where Peterson Avenue crosses Peterson Creek.

construction works install a new culvert
Peterson Creek flows through a temporary channel (left) while the new fish-friendly arch culvert was installed. 📷 Sitka Conservation Society/Lione Clare

“Fully community-supported projects are the right way to do infrastructure projects when living in a salmon landscape” — Andrew Thoms, Executive Director, Sitka Conservation Society

This new culvert is designed to accommodate not just the variable swimming abilities of fish, but also the creek’s full range of high and low flows. This kind of design also promotes the normal movement of logs, rocks, leaves and other natural materials found in and along the creek (movement of which create habitat and feeding opportunities for fish and their prey).

a school of small spotted brown fish in shallow water
Juvenile salmonids school amongst rocks in a shallow Alaska stream. 📷 USFWS/Katrina Liebich

“Salmon need uninterrupted routes from the ocean to their spawning grounds. Roads and dams are inevitable, but have made this difficult. Incorporating affordable infrastructure like this makes it much easier for salmon to retain a greater portion of their habitat, even in developed areas.” — Dan Kirsch, Project Manager, Professional and Technical Services, Inc.

Fish splash through an arch culvert
Salmon splash upstream past the new culvert. 📷 Sitka Conservation Society/Lione Clare

That means safer routes to and from home and school, and fewer (if any) delays during a storm/flood events.

Fish are a key part of peoples’ ways of life in Sitka and all of Alaska, feeding families and forests, and sustaining communities, economies, and the entire environment.

a man stands by a river bank in boots
A man stands along the bank of a Southeast Alaska salmon stream. 📷 USFWS/Will Rice

“Finding a balance between protecting salmon habitat and supporting development in communities is important so both can continue to coexist. Salmon habitat is important to protect to maintain healthy salmon populations that support communities through food resources, jobs, and tourism…” — Jesse Lindgren, Alaska Department of Fish & Game Habitat Biologist

For Peterson Creek, one barrier remains just a few hundred feet upstream at the intersection of Wachusetts Street. To continue improving and making Sitka’s streams healthier and roads more resilient for the future, partners plan to remove this barrier too, and reconnect downstream habitat to important upstream habitat in the headwaters of Peterson Creek.

Stories from Alaska by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service