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Poor King And Sockeye Returns Feared

NORTH AMERICA - Scientists from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Pacfic Salmon Commission are predicting bad news for fishermen.

For the third year in a row, fishermen on the Yukon River will probably have to contend with a weak king salmon run and the restrictions that go with it, according to Atlantic Salmon Trust.

The outlook for the Yukon’s 2011 king salmon run is “below average to poor,” at around 130,000 fish. That likely means there will be no commercial fishing on the Yukon for the third year running. This is particularly bad news for the Yukon's subsistence fishermen, who normally depend on a catch of around 50,000 king salmon per year. At the same time, the Pacific Salmon Commission is forecasting that only a small fraction of last year's incredible sockeye run of roughly 35 million fish will return to the Fraser River this year, reports CTV news. This year, the PSC is expecting a mere three to five million sockeye, although a good return of pink salmon is anticipated.

Long-term sockeye numbers are also grim; poor returns are expected for two more years, at least. Declining salmon populations have been under investigation since the 2009 collapse, when only one-tenth of anticipated sockeye returned to spawn. The Cohen Commission, a federal inquiry into the phenomenon, is looking into possible diseases and ecological factors affecting salmon on the West Coast. It is due to release its findings in June 2012.

A report submitted to the Cohen Commission last week by Dr Randall Petermana (Professor and Canada research chair in fisheries risk assessment at Simon Fraser University), and Dr Brigitte Dorner, (a specialist in salmon ecology and fisheries management) said that the drastic collapse of the Fraser sockeye stocks in 2009 was not an isolated event, but was part of a long downward trend in salmon productivity spread over a large area, from Alaska to Washington State.

The authors say it is possible that “a coincidental combination of processes such as freshwater habitat degradation, contaminants, pathogens, predators, etc.,” has affected the populations in many rivers at the same time. But they suggest a more likely explanation is that something that has an impact over a large area of ocean, where correlated sockeye stocks overlap, is the cause.

“Examples of such large-scale phenomena affecting freshwater and/or marine survival of sockeye salmon might include (but are not limited to) increases in predation due to various causes, climate-driven increases in pathogen-induced mortality, or reduced food availability due to oceanographic changes,” the researchers state.

A list of all the research commissioned by the Cohen Commission – including the impact of coastal salmon farms, of hydroelectric projects and of climate change – can be found by clicking here.

the Fish Site Editor

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