Frequently Asked Questions
Habitat Permits

Why does ADF&G care if I work in or near fish streams?

Construction or other activities in or near fish streams can have a direct impact on fish by damaging or blocking their access to their habitat. Damage to habitat and lack of access to habitat impact the productivity of our rivers, lakes, and stream which can have negative effects on commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries.

What is an anadromous fish?

Anadromous fish are fish or fish species that spend a portion of its life cycle in both fresh and salt waters, entering fresh water from the sea to spawn. Anadromous fish species in Alaska include the anadromous forms of Pacific trout and five species of Pacific salmon (rainbow and cutthroat trout and chinook, coho, sockeye, chum and pink salmon), Arctic char, Dolly Varden, sheefish, smelts, lamprey, and whitefish.

To find out if a river, stream, or lake has been designated as important habitat for anadromous fish, contact your local Habitat Section office or visit the Fish Resource Monitor online. Some streams may not be catalogued as anadromous yet still provide spawning and/or rearing habitat for salmon.

What law gives ADF&G the authority to regulate activities or work that may affect fish streams?

The Anadromous Fish Act (AS 16.05.871- .901) requires that an individual or government agency provide prior notification and obtain permit approval from ADF&G before altering or affecting “the natural flow or bed” of a specified waterbody, or fish stream. All activities within or across a specified anadromous waterbody require approval from Habitat, including construction; road crossings; gravel removal; mining; water withdrawals; the use of vehicles or equipment in the waterway; stream realignment or diversion; bank stabilization; blasting; and the placement, excavation, deposition, or removal of any material.

The Fishway (or Fish Passage Act AS 16.05.841) , requires that an individual or government agency notify and obtain authorization from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Habitat Section for activities across a stream used by fish if it is determined that such uses or activities could represent an impediment to the efficient passage of resident or anadromous fish.

What is a Special Area?

"Special Areas" refer to ADF&G’s State Game Refuges, State Game Sanctuaries, and Critical Habitat Areas . These areas are designated by the Legislature when it passes a statute describing the legal boundaries of the area, the purpose of the area, and any other specific management considerations for that particular area. Each of the different types of special area has a different general purpose although all provide habitat protection.

The Habitat Section implements a statewide special areas permitting program to manage land and water use activities within a special area. By regulation, permits are required for many activities within a special area unless the commissioner has issued a general permit . Contact your local Habitat Section office with questions about activities in Special Areas.

How much does a Fish Habitat or Special Area Permit cost?

Currently there is no fee required for either a Fish Habitat or Special Area Permit.

How do I find out if my project or activity requires a permit from ADF&G?

Please visit our “Do I Need A Permit” page or contact a Habitat Biologist at your local Habitat Section office if you have any questions on whether or not your project or activity requires a permit from ADF&G.

How do I get a Fish Habitat or Special Area Permit?

Applications are available online or at any Habitat Section office. To apply for a Fish Habitat Permit, download and complete the permit application, and return the completed application to the Habitat Section office closest to your project in person, by postal mail, or by email. Be sure to provide a detailed description of your proposed activity or project and attach any supporting information such as maps or diagrams. We encourage you to contact your local Habitat Section office to discuss your proposal prior to filling out an application.

How long does it take to get a permit?

Typically, project review and permitting takes about 2-4 weeks. The length of time required to process your permit request depends on the complexity of your project and whether modifications are necessary to ensure the protection of fish and wildlife habitat. If you have an emergency (e.g. flooding) that requires work in a fish stream, we can expedite our review process. Contact your local Habitat Section office for more information on review timelines for your proposed project.

Do I need to include professional drawings in my permit application?

No. Drawings are often required and the more accurate the drawings are, the more helpful they are in conveying the nature of your project. Clear, labeled hand drawings with accompanying project descriptions are generally sufficient for permit applications. Photographs of the project area are also helpful.

How do I know where Ordinary High Water (OHW) or Mean High Water (MHW) is?

Ordinary High Water Illustration

Ordinary High Water (OHW) is the highest point on the stream bank or lake shore where water flows for a sufficient amount of time to leave visible evidence on the landscape. It is often marked by a change in vegetation type, or marks the point where vegetation transitions into sand, rock, or gravel. In tidally influenced areas, Mean High Water (MHW) is the average of all the high tides observed over a period of several years. If you have questions about OHW or MHW on your property your local Habitat Section office can help you determine where the OHW or MHW line is.

If I use a contractor, whose responsibility is it to apply for permits and make sure the permits are followed?

Contractors should always be aware of and follow regulations, and can be authorized to act as an agent for the property owner in order to obtain permits. However, the landowner or permittee is ultimately responsible for complying with legal requirements of a Fish Habitat or Special Area Permit.

What can happen if I do work in a fish stream or Special Area without getting a permit from ADF&G?

In severe cases, violations can lead to a class A misdemeanor.