Growing up on the East Coast, I’ve always been in awe of wild Alaska. Last August I had the opportunity to work with NOAA Fisheries’ Habitat Conservation Division in Juneau for five months. This was a tremendous opportunity to experience a new work environment, learn about a new community and culture, and experience a new habitat.
Unlike the northern parts of the state, Juneau is a temperate rainforest. Temperatures are generally cool, hovering in the mid 40s, although some days it can feel quite warm or bitterly cold. It rains or snows 236 days per year. Steep rising mountains to the east and west border downtown Juneau creating a narrow valley. Creeks flowing from these mountains swell like veins with seasonal rainstorms and continue on flowing to the ocean. This combination of temperate rainforest and mountain streams creates a flourishing coastal habitat that supports thriving recreational, subsistence, and commercial fisheries.
Five species of Pacific salmon (pink, chum, coho, sockeye and chinook) are found in the waters off Juneau. Many of these fish make their way up the small coastal streams to spawn. The young fish eventually swim to the ocean to grow and mature, returning several years later to continue the cycle. Our work in Juneau focused on supporting healthy populations of fish like Pacific salmon and their habitat, just as I do here in New England and Mid-Atlantic. We work to protect the health of rivers and coasts and ensuring passage to historical habitat. Salmon, alewife, blueback herring, shad, eels, and so many other species need healthy coastal and riverine habitats to spawn, grow, and survive. Many of these fish and their habitat support recreational and subsistence activities that bring together family and friends
Before leaving for Juneau, a friend said, “You better go fishing in Alaska.” Of course I did! The accessibility of small coastal streams from downtown Juneau provides ideal recreational opportunities. I bought a state fishing license, borrowed some gear and headed out with new friends excited to land a few bright coho. We would spend the morning casting colorful lures, waiting for a sharp snap that would prove to be a bright silver fish, or a sculpin. A fisherman from Montana shared his story until it was time to reel in his prize. A pair of bald eagles joined us, eyeing our catch, and patiently waiting on the nearby channel marker. I would often stop to admire the beauty of the surrounding coastal landscape.
Our work in the Habitat Conservation Division centers on protecting the habitat supporting fish and fisheries. Whether in Alaska or on the East Coast, a healthy habitat is key to outdoor recreation. The experience of fishing with family and friends, kayaking the nearshore waters, or bird watching in a salt marsh are all thanks to a healthy habitat.