Alaska’s king salmon disappearing

This video from North America is called Underwater Chinook Salmon on the spawning run action.

Not just eels in Britain and elsewhere are declining terribly …

From the BBC:

19 September 2012 Last updated at 02:21 GMT

Alaska and the mysterious disappearing king salmon

By Lynsea Garrison

BBC News, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

When the number of king salmon running in Crooked Creek’s river declined dramatically, the mostly native Alaskan villagers were left wondering where they could find enough food to last the winter.

Crooked Creek has no big-box grocery stores or roads to other towns. But in good times, the Kuskokwim River promises king salmon to the villages along its 702 miles (1,130km).

But good times are fading into memory for villagers like Evelyn Thomas, who has lived in Crooked Creek her entire life.

“In my language, fish is called ‘the food’,” says Thomas, a half Yupik, half Athabascan native Alaskan who says she has little money to buy food to replace the salmon.

“When we don’t get ‘the food’, a staple of our diet is missing.”

Over the past five years, Alaska’s king salmon have begun to disappear from the state’s rivers, and no-one is sure why.

This summer’s king salmon season yielded one of the lowest catches on record. The drop has devastated commerce and tourism, but the most dramatic effect has been on subsistence villages where fishermen eat what they catch.

In an emergency effort to ensure the future survival of the king salmon, state officials have severely limited the catch this year, even going so far as to close some rivers entirely to fishermen.

Fishermen accused of breaking the limit have been prosecuted, their catch confiscated.

“Many people don’t know how they’re going to feed their families throughout the winter,” says Thomas. “There is no economy here, there is no money.”

Crooked Creek is part of one of the poorest regions in the US, the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta in Alaska’s south-west.

The delta’s rural villages suffer from chronic unemployment and some of the highest poverty rates in the country – up to 31%, compared to 15% nationwide.

The cost of living there is exorbitant, because the area has few roads. Petrol and other supplies must be imported by barge or plane.

But one king salmon can feed an entire family for a week.

The fish ranges from a glittering silver in colour to a bold red, but its most distinctive trait is its size. Fishermen in villages like Crooked Creek wade in the Kuskokwim River to catch king salmon in their nets.

They hang their catch on racks to dry and preserve it for the winter. Families can the salmon and make smoked boiled salmon during the winter. Or they freeze the salmon and fry or bake it.

The salmon’s rich flavour and oil nourish families through the long, dark winter.

But this year, the delta’s fishermen hauled in less than a quarter of the usual harvest of 80,000 king salmon, according to the Association of Village Council Presidents.

“Many people in the villages will have to choose between food and fuel this winter,” says Myron Naneng Sr, president of the association.

The reason for the drop remains unclear, says Pat Shields, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“There’s a concern about kings in Alaska right now – very few rivers have achieved king spawning escapement goals,” he says.

“We’re in the third, fourth, fifth year of this now – what’s happening? We have made our spawning goals in systems and we’re not getting the adults back.”

Since most of Alaska’s prime salmon rivers have suffered large declines, scientists are searching further downstream, in the ocean for clues. Researchers have no sense of when – if ever – the salmon will recover.

Alaska’s economic vitality is tied to the health of its king salmon, and anxiety over the fish’s fate is felt particularly strongly on the Kenai Peninsula. …

King salmon facts

Salmon is the most valuable commercial fishery managed by the state of Alaska, worth $512m (£319m)

Sport anglers on the Kenai Peninsula spend over $40m annually on king salmon fishing

King salmon are the largest salmon species, typically measuring 3ft long, they can weigh an excess of 120lb (54kg)

The fish lives in freshwater and marine environments as far south as southern California to as far north as the Bering Strait

King salmon is also known as chinook salmon

Source: BBC research

Search for the culprit

King salmon is Alaska’s state fish, but the species thrives from the Bering Strait to as far south as Ventura River, California.

California saw healthy king returns this summer, leading some researchers to cite a cyclical change in ocean temperatures known as Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) as a possible culprit.

Unfortunately for the salmon fishermen, PDO can last up to three decades.

According to one theory, PDO has reduced king salmon’s food supply in oceans off Alaska, while at the same time replenishing stocks in California, Oregon and Washington.

Other theories include rising acidity in ocean waters due to climate change and human-induced factors such as over-fishing.

The largest and oldest Chinook salmon — fish also known as ‘kings’ and prized for their exceptional size — have mostly disappeared along the West Coast, according to a new study: here.

Hatchery-raised chinook salmon sort themselves into surface- and bottom-oriented groups in their rearing tanks, and this behavior might be due in part to the fish’s genes: here.

14 thoughts on “Alaska’s king salmon disappearing

  1. Pingback: Ocean wildlife in danger | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Warming ‘poses huge threat’ to California

    Thursday 08 August 2013

    California’s Environmental Protection Agency warned today that climate change is increasingly affecting the state’s natural resources.

    Coastal waters are getting more acidic, chinook salmon populations in the Sacramento River are on the decline and conifer forests on the lower slopes of the Sierra Nevada have retreated to higher elevations over the past half century, the agency said in its report.

    “There’s certainly reason for concern,” said Dan Cayan, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who contributed to the agency’s research.

    Among other known impacts, butterflies in the Central Valley are emerging earlier in the spring, glaciers in the Sierra Nevada have shrunk and spring runoff from snowmelt has declined, affecting Central Valley farmers and hydroelectric plants which rely on snowmelt to produce power.

    Officials hope the report will spur the state and local governments to plan ahead and adapt to a hotter future.

    Monitoring should continue in order “to reduce the impacts of climate change and to prepare for those effects that we cannot avoid,” said Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment head George Alexeeff.

    Annual average temperatures across the state have risen by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, with the greatest warming seen in portions of the Central Valley and Southern California.

    Levels of carbon dioxide, methane and other heat-trapping gases in the state increased between 1990 and 2011.

    However, in recent years, there has been a slight drop as a result of industries and vehicles becoming more energy efficient.

    Some of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is being absorbed by the ocean, altering its chemistry.

    Scientists have documented changes to the waters of Monterey Bay, which have turned more acidic in recent years, raising concerns about the impact on marine life.

    Ocean warming, among other factors, may be behind the dramatic drop of chinook salmon in Central California since 2004.

    And certain plant and animals species – such as conifers in the Sierra Nevada and small mammals in Yosemite National Park – have responded to a changing climate by moving to higher ground.


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