Kirschner Lake, Kamishak Bay

Kirschner Lake, Kamishak Bay

by | May 19, 2022

Kirschner Lake is on the western coast of lower Cook Inlet at an elevation of about 80 feet (24 m) and isolated by a waterfall that cascades 40 feet (12 m) to the northern shore of Kamishak Bay, about 110 miles (177 km) northeast of King Salmon and 86 miles (138 km) west-southwest of Homer, Alaska. The name was first published in 1952 by U.S. Geological Survey, most likely after Charles E. Kirschner who was a petroleum geologist who conducted extensive explorations on the west coast of Cook Inlet in the late 1940s and 1950s. The lake is fed by three unnamed streams, the largest flows south for about 5.5 miles (9 km) draining a small coastal watershed between Bruin Bay to the southwest and Ursus Cove to the northeast. The Bruin Bay Fault runs parallel to the west coast of Cook Inlet and extends for about 300 miles (483 km) from Mount Susitna in the northeast to Lake Becharof on the Alaska Peninsula in the southwest. The Bruin Bay Fault separates the Alaska-Aleutian Range batholith to the west from sedimentary rocks of the Talkeetna Formation to the east that primarily were derived from erosion of the batholith. The Alaska-Aleutian Range batholith consists of igneous rocks ranging from granite and granodiorite to quartz diorite and tonalite. The batholith includes Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Tertiary phases with the Jurassic phase exposed on the west side of Cook Inlet where it is bounded by the Bruin Bay Fault. Jurassic quartz diorite and tonalite underlie most of the watershed draining into Kirschner Lake. The bedrock in the lower part of the watershed is buried under Quaternary sediments. The sedimentary rocks east of the batholith are part of the Talkeetna Formation which is represented at Kirschner Lake by a belt of rock about 0.4 miles (0.6 km) wide separating the lake from Kamishak Bay. This belt of rock is comprised of layers including limestone that has been locally metamorphosed into dolomite, gray tuff, and calcite that is locally altered to chert suggesting a deep ocean basin depositional environment.

Kamishak Bay is a broad indentation at the north end of the Alaska Peninsula at the northeast end of Shelikof Strait near the mouth of Cook Inlet. In 1796, a Russian ship entered Kamishak Bay and was damaged on one of the numerous reefs and abandoned. In 1890, there were several camps of sea otter hunters along the shore of Kamishak Bay between Cape Douglas to the south and Ursus Cove to the north. The camps were occupied by Yup’ik and Alutiiq hunters, some of whom traveled over 200 miles (323 km) from villages in Bristol Bay. They crossed the tundra in the spring before the snow melted, carrying their belongings and skin boats on sleds, and hunted sea otters for the Russian artels located on Augustine Island and in Chinitna Bay. They returned home with the first snow of winter. By the late 1800s, Dena’ina Athabaskans lived in several villages on the west side of Cook Inlet and used all the major river systems for traveling. Trails connected Cook Inlet with Lake Iliamna and Bristol Bay and active trade and social interactions took place among villages. The Russian Orthodox Church also maintained an active presence at several locations. The villages were decimated by European diseases and after most of the inhabitants died, the survivors moved to Tyonek and Kenai. By about 1920, there were no settlements remaining on the west side of lower Cook Inlet, however, perhaps unique was the settlement of independent fishermen, trappers, and miners at a number of locations. Some people occupied the area year-round, while others moved seasonally from Kenai, Ninilchik, Homer, Seldovia, Tyonek, and Anchorage to their cabins and campsites. These people were Alaska Natives and non-natives, some of whom had ancestral ties to the area, while others moved there to harvest a bounty of fish and furs to earn a cash income and to live away from populated areas. While staple supplies were usually obtained from cannery-related tenders or barges transiting the area, these people relied heavily on the local resources for their daily sustenance. To this day, the area remains relatively remote and inaccessible. Other than by light aircraft, boats are the only means of access, and navigating the inlet requires extensive knowledge of tides, weather, and navigable channels. Because of their isolation, west side residents harvested most of the available wild resources for their personal use including all five salmon species, the majority of freshwater fish, halibut, eulachon, and clams. Marine mammals including seals and beluga whales were harvested, and moose, bear, caribou, and many small game species were hunted.

Kirschner Lake is stocked with sockeye salmon, and because of an impassable waterfall, a terminal commercial fishery was created in Kamishak Bay. The Alaska statewide salmon fishery is managed for sustainable annual catches for commercial and sport fishing, subsistence by Alaska Native communities, and personal use by local residents. Salmon fishing is a nearly ubiquitous activity across the state and the salmon catch in Alaska is the largest in North America. Overfishing in the early 20th century resulted from the rapid expansion of industrial cannery capacity and lack of oversight. In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower declared Alaska a federal disaster area. Alaska achieved statehood in 1959, and the development of a comprehensive fisheries management system soon followed. The primary goal of salmon management is to ensure that sufficient numbers of adults escape capture in the fishery and are allowed to migrate upstream in the rivers to spawn, thus maintaining the long-term health of wild stocks. Enhancement of salmon stocks started with a hatchery program in 1971, and Alaska now has 29 production hatcheries designed to augment existing fisheries and manage terminal fisheries. The waterfall at the outlet to Kirschner Lake is an impassable barrier to spawning salmon and as a result, the lake is considered barren by fish managers. The Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association stocks the lake with sockeye salmon fry that rear in the lake before migrating to the ocean. The resulting fishery is considered terminal since the fish returning to their natal stream cannot ascend the waterfall to spawn. The sockeye smolt originate from the Trail Lakes Hatchery on the Kenai Peninsula and are transported by truck in mid-April to Tutka Bay Lagoon in Kachemak Bay where the fish are released into net pens. They are held for about six to eight weeks, and when their weight doubles to 12 grams, they are released in Leisure, Hazel, and Kirschner Lakes. Read more here and here. Explore more of Kirschner Lake and Kamishak Bay here:

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This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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