Nomination Submission Guidelines

Nomination form(s) should include as much information as possible to support the changes sought. Nomination form(s) should clearly identify sampling locations and methods. Supporting documentation should include aerial photos (if available), copies of data forms, relevant reports, photographs, and any other data in hard copy or electronic form.

Information such as extent and quality of fish habitat, barriers blocking fish passage, stream morphology data, etc., is also important and, if available, should accompany the nomination form(s).

  1. Confirm anadromous fish species and/or life stage presence has not been previously documented on existing anadromous waters maps
  2. Complete nomination form as completely as possible
  3. Include as much supporting information as available (maps, data forms, field logs, photographs, etc.)
  4. Include a copy of the USGS Quadrangle marked to show the part of the water body where anadromous fish presence was documented
  5. Include the name of the water body if it has one (recognized local names should be listed as such)
  6. Include the dates, numbers, species of fish and life stage observed (spawning, rearing or migration).
  7. Include environmental information such as the extent and quality of fish habitat, barriers blocking fish passage, stream morphology data, etc.
  8. Include the type of survey (i.e., aerial survey, foot survey, electro-fishing, minnow trapping, seining, etc.) and survey conditions and effort (CPUE, soak time, total shocking time)
  9. Include reports with location data such as coordinates or maps with identifiable landmarks especially if the nomination is based on historical data from federal, state, local or other resource agencies.
  10. Include the name, signature and address of observer

Criteria for Nomination Review:

  1. Does the nominated water body (or associated main stem or tributary) already exist in the Anadromous Waters Catalog (AWC)? If so, what fish species and life stages have already been documented for that water body?

    If a nominated water body exists in the database and has, as an example, been previously nominated and mapped for coho salmon rearing, such information could be used to substantiate a new nomination based on field observations of adult salmon to add coho salmon spawning to the water body.

  2. Is species being nominated actually anadromous?

    For most salmon, sturgeon, and whitefish and smelt species, the answer is obvious. Nominations seeking to add steelhead trout, cutthroat trout, lamprey species, and Dolly Varden require supporting information such as reports or studies, otolith analysis, or other data that substantiate the contention that anadromous fish inhabit the nominated water body.

    In the past, the department has utilized historical literature in the form of reports and studies to determine if certain fish species are anadromous based on the absence of physical barriers to movement. Coastal cutthroat trout found in southeast Alaska and Dolly Varden found on the Seward Peninsula has been designated as anadromous based on the absence of barriers. The department has also accepted nominations to include or extend the extent of rearing life stage for Dolly Varden and/or steelhead trout as anadromous if the presence of these species has been previously documented and no barriers to movement are known to occur. Weir counts of adults and juvenile fish as well as stream walks to document the absence of barriers provide useful substantiating information.

  3. How were fish identified?
    1. Fish in hand utilizing sampling devices such as a minnow trap, gill net, or portable electrofisher allow visual observations and physical measurements. Photographs or physical descriptions of nominated fish species should clearly document species of fish being nominated.
    2. If adult fish were identified from aerial surveys only, there should be some supporting information to substantiate the presence of an anadromous fish species such as documented ground observations, photographs that clearly identify the fish species, a physical description of the fish observed, or identification by experienced biologist(s). Time of year sampling occurred, sample location, and previous documentation of that species and/or life stage in general area should be considered when evaluating nomination.
    3. During the early 1990’s the Alaska Department of Fish and Game adopted guidelines restricting the acceptance of visual observation or identification of juvenile fish unless the fish were “in hand” (i.e. captured and identified). This policy was necessary to defend the water body classification in court cases or other administrative reviews. This is not to say that visual observations cannot reliably be done or that a “visual juvenile identification” would never be accepted. Under the right conditions, observations by an experienced person can and have been performed. But for the purposes of the Anadromous Waters Catalog it was decided that without good explanation and supporting detail those types of observations could be difficult to defend. Hence, the following guidelines have been utilized in the determination of the validity of visual identification of juveniles.
      1. Generally the visual identification of juveniles is not allowed unless water conditions for viewing were excellent (clear, still, pool) and the observer provides a good description of the distinguishing behavioral and physical characteristics utilized to identify the juvenile fish. Documentation of adult fish of this species in the nominated water body should be considered when evaluating nomination.
      2. Visual identification of juveniles through snorkel surveys conducted by trained personnel is an acceptable observation for inclusion in the AWC. Identification of juvenile fish utilizing snorkel surveys is a documented and accepted method utilized by the United States Forest Service and others (Harkin 1986, Thurow 1994).
      3. Visual identification of a school of juveniles tentatively identified as a species and then verified through the capture of one or two individuals is a valid observation acceptable for inclusion in the AWC.
  4. How many anadromous fish of each species and/or life stage being nominated were sampled or observed in some other way?
  5. As a rule, it takes at least two fish to generate changes to the database. In the past, nominations submitted with only one fish per species observed have sometimes resulted in a revision to the database. Based on concerns raised by department staff the nomination criteria have been revised. The department now requires that nominated revisions to the AWC are based on observations of at least two fish of the same species and life stage at the point in a water body. The department will also accept for consideration nomination forms based on observations of adult salmon carcasses based on the following criteria

    1. Two of more salmon carcasses were observed and species was positively identified, and
    2. There is evidence of recent spawning activity such as the observed presence of redds and/or observation of fish eggs in the gravel, or
    3. There have been recent observations of live/spawning salmon of the same species in the same location, or
    4. The nominated water body is a tributary of a currently specified AWC water body that supports the same salmon species, or
    5. There are observations of adult salmon of the same species immediately downstream and listed on a corresponding AWC nomination form.

Adding Polygons to AWC

Polygons are included in the AWC Database to delineate areas that are important for spawning, rearing, or migration of anadromous fishes where stream channels are so packed together, dynamic, or convoluted that water bodies are not easily mapped or individual streams or ponds cannot be clearly identified in aerial photographs. Polygons are more typically used for wetland areas or areas with regular seasonal flooding, but should be considered when water bodies are so congested that individual water bodies cannot be accurately depicted on even the smallest scale map currently utilized in the Atlas to the Catalog of Waters Important for Spawning, Rearing, or Migration of Anadromous Fishes (1:25,000).

Nominations to add polygons should include adequate information to demonstrate that the area being nominated is important for spawning, rearing, or migration of anadromous fishes. Sampling data provided should include sampling site coordinates, sampling method(s), effort, and fish species observed, and number of fish captured or observed at each site. Polygon area being nominated should be clearly shown on accompanying maps or aerial photographs especially if the polygon is shaped such that it makes it difficult to utilize longitude and latitude to establish the polygon boundaries. Sampling should occur around the perimeter of the proposed polygon as well as within. Sampling effort should be intensive enough to clearly document that anadromous fish species are likely to be found throughout the area being nominated. Sampling density could vary due to the size and shape of the polygon being nominated, habitat, fish species, life stage, the sampling method(s) employed, and sampling gear efficiency. Sampling efficiency could be effected by water chemistry (conductivity), water temperature, bottom substrate type, water depth, turbidity, and fish species. Therefore there is no hard and fast rule regarding sampling density. It is up to the biologist submitting the nomination to determine adequate sampling density based on-the-ground observations. As a rule it takes at least two fish of the same species and life stage at each sampling location to generate changes to the AWC Database.

Note regarding submission of environmental DNA data with AWC nomination at this time

Water bodies may not be nominated to the Anadromous Water Catalog (AWC) based solely on results from environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling at this time. The department has made this determination because of the following limitations:

  1. eDNA does not distinguish between anadromous and non-anadromous individuals,
  2. eDNA methods may lead to false positives,
  3. eDNA methods may lead to false negatives,
  4. eDNA does not provide life stage information,
  5. eDNA cannot be used to determine abundance,
  6. eDNA cannot distinguish vitality.
  • Anadromy – Alaska Statute 16.05.871 requires the commissioner to: “…specify the various rivers, lakes, and streams or parts of them that are important for the spawning, rearing, or migration of anadromous fish.” There are several species of fish found in Alaska’s fresh waters that occur as both anadromous and non-anadromous forms (e.g., kokanee/sockeye salmon, steelhead/rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, cutthroat trout). Environmental DNA cannot be used to distinguish between anadromous and non-anadromous individuals.
  • False Positives – Nominations based on methods that may yield false positive detections (incorrectly indicating the presence of fish species where none exist) threatens the defense of the water body classification in court cases or other administrative reviews. False positives can result from sample contamination in the field or in the lab, failure to adhere to sampling protocol, or introduction of DNA material from another site through natural processes. There is a significant possibility that contamination of eDNA samples could occur when rigorous field sampling protocol and post collection analysis are not strictly adhered to (Wilcox et al. 2016, Carim et al. 2016). Fish species, life stage, abundance, and environmental factors such as inclement weather, water velocity, water level, water chemistry, or time of year when sampling occurs also may lead to false positives (Carim et al. 2016, de Souza et al. 2016, Ficetola et al. 2008). There is no single standard for either eDNA collection or analysis. Validation of suspicious positive results would require repeated sampling through time and/or space (McKelvey et al. 2016). Finally, eDNA may be present in a system that did not originate from the system through the introduction of DNA material from another site by natural processes. These natural processes may include animals moving carcasses, moving eDNA on their body, through defecation (i.e. bears, birds) or through weather or tidal events (i.e. flooding) (Jerde et al. 2011, Merkes et al. 2014, Wheat et al. 2016).
  • False Negatives – Nominations based on a method susceptible to false negatives may incorrectly document a body of water as not having anadromous fish, thereby reducing protections where protections are warranted. Failure to adhere to sampling protocol may result in misleading results which may incorrectly indicate absence of fish species (false negatives). In addition, the optimal level of replication for accurate species detection strongly varies among studies (Ficetola et al. 2015). DNA detection rates can also vary between individuals of the same species (Wilcox et al. 2016) or age (life stage; de Souza et al. 2016). Environmental DNA sample concentrations can be very dilute with the DNA of the target species contributing only a small percentage of the total DNA obtained from the eDNA sample, resulting in a false negative reading (Goldberg et al. 2016). Multispecies eDNA sampling (eDNA barcoding) may fail to attain levels of sensitivity comparable to single-species methodology (eDNA qPCR; Carim et al. 2016).
  • Life stage – AWC was established to document anadromous fish occurrence within specific water bodies by life stage to ensure Fish Habitat Permit language provides adequate regulatory protection especially if proposed construction, activity, or use may have effects on rearing or spawning fish populations (Johnson and Blossom 2017). Documentation of life history improves baseline knowledge of habitat use by species and life stage. Documentation of life stage, especially spawning, is used to prohibit establishment of mixing zones in areas of Pacific salmon spawning habitat. Environmental DNA sampling does not provide information on the fine-scale habitat utilization which helps to characterize fish habitat use and AWC life stage designations such as “spawning, rearing, or present”. Such data can be obtained only through capture-based sampling techniques or other direct observations such as aerial surveys or radio-telemetry studies.
  • Abundance - The department requires that nominated revisions to the AWC are based on observations of at least two fish of the same species and life stage at the point in a water body. Nomination criteria were revised in 2009 to require the observation of at least two fish, based on concerns raised by department staff. Sequence read abundance and species abundance are too weakly linked to provide reliable estimates of species abundance for both qPCR and DNA barcoding methods for detecting eDNA (Biggs et al. 2015, Evans et al. 2017a).
  • Vitality - Revisions to the AWC based solely on the observations of fish carcasses are subject to additional department standards. One of these standards is to verify the origin of the carcasses. Analysis of eDNA cannot tell whether DNA collected came from living or dead fish. Environmental DNA can persist in the environment for extended periods of time after death of the animal (i.e. Dunker et al. 2016) and is more concentrated in aquatic sediments than surface water (Turner et al. 2015). In one case eDNA has been successfully amplified from 10,000-year-old dry cave sediments (Ficetola et al. 2008).

Environmental DNA may be a good tool to prioritize locations for further investigation for AWC nominations, but the limitations detailed above preclude the use of eDNA alone as a method to nominate water bodies for the AWC, at this time. Environmental eDNA has been used to establish fish presence or absence (Goldberg et al. 2016, Newton 2013, Yamamoto et al. 2017), and can provide cost-effective and improved sensitivity for determining species richness (Evans et al. 2017a, Evans et al. 2017b). Sampling results from eDNA for anadromous and resident species can be listed in the department’s Alaska Freshwater Fish Inventory Database (AFFID), which is not used to revise the AWC. However, demographic sampling via capture-based sampling techniques remains the standard for AWC nominations because these methods meet all the AWC nominations requirements.

The department will continue to evaluate the use of eDNA methods as ancillary sampling tools for detecting presence of anadromous species. For purposes of the revision and regulatory update of the Anadromous Waters Catalog, fish "in hand" or other direct fish observations are required to nominate revisions to AWC. Updates based solely on eDNA sampling results will not be considered.

Other points to consider

Keep in mind when considering the accuracy of the mapped species and life stage utilization data presented in the AWC that it is a broad-brush approach, and necessarily so. The actual extent and area of a stream utilized for a particular life function (i.e. spawning or rearing) will vary from year to year depending on a wide variety of biological and environmental variables. For instance the area used for spawning in a stream can vary depending on escapement, water levels, temporary barriers, fishing pressure, etc. For this reason it is not the intent or purpose of the AWC to map all life stage presence. The AWC merely documents that a particular life stage is known to occur in a specific water body or portion of a water body and therefore any project review should incorporate measures to protect for those species and life stage(s).

Depending on water quality, hydrography, and geomorphology pink salmon spawning can be extrapolated from the upstream point of observation downstream to the marine receiving body of water or large lake since pink salmon typically spawn from the intertidal area upstream.

Spawning observations of other salmonids can be extrapolated from the upstream point of observation downstream to the mouth of the stream the observation was made; unless, other information is provided that indicates spawning does not extend that far or that habitat is unsuitable for spawning, (i.e. coho salmon may spawn in tributary streams from the point of observation down to the stream’s mouth). Spawning may very well extend into the main stem, however, without reliable observations that it does occur, the designation as spawning habitat should be limited to the stream in which the observation was made. Similarly, if spawning was observed in the main stem of a water body the assumption cannot be made that coho salmon spawn in the intertidal portions of the water body; therefore any downstream extrapolation should end above this area. Once the presence of anadromous fish is documented upstream, the assumption is made that the fish had to travel upstream in that water body to reach the upstream limit of fish distribution. As a result, that portion of the water body would also be classified as important for anadromous fish as a migratory corridor.

Habitat type, hydrography, and other environmental factors should be considered when evaluating nominations. Physical conditions such as poor water clarity encountered while conducting aerial surveys or low conductivity encountered while utilizing a portable electrofisher could affect sampling efficiency by adversely affecting catch per unit effort. The presence of physical barriers such as increasing elevation or waterfalls should be considered when evaluating nominations. The time of year and day sampling occurred may also affect fish distribution and sampling efficiency.

Water bodies may be nominated based on historical data from agency reports from federal, state, and local agencies. This type of data should only be used if the extent of the water body being nominated is clearly defined. A report stating, “eulachon occur throughout the Yukon River” would not result a change to the database. Reports with detailed location data such as coordinates or maps with identifiable landmarks would be more useful in evaluating a nomination. These nominations would have to be closely scrutinized and input from local area staff should be solicited to determine if dated materials are still applicable.


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