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Live blog: Chinook salmon symposium

Researchers spend Tuesday morning discussing king salmon in the ocean

Posted: October 20, 2012 - 4:50pm  |  Updated: October 23, 2012 - 10:23pm

Marine research presented during the morning session lacked consistent data on Cook Inlet chinook. 

Paul Shadura, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Fisherman's Association, asked why there wasn't much data on Cook Inlet fish or the stocks in the Gulf of Alaska. 

Kate Myers, a retired University of Washington professor who spoke about the information needed to understand open-ocean ecology influencing immature chinook, said the data on Central Alaska chinook stocks was both widespread and sparse. 

"They don't really show up that well," Myers said. "We think, we hypothesize because their distribution is so broad. What we don't really know is whether, within that broader distribution, the individual stocks have their own specific migration pathways."

Myers said it was possible that particular stocks of salmon from Alaska migrated into parts of the Bering Sea or into the Aleutian Island chain. 

"All we have is a smattering of data so it's important, knowing those stock specific distributions — and salmon do have stock specific distributios on the high seas — knowing those gives us an idea about what to look at for causes of decline in ocean survival," Myers said. "If you don't even know for sure whether your stock is in the Bering Sea or the Gulf of Alaska, it's really hard to predict what's important, to say what the important variables or parameters are, or what type of data to collect to correct those issues."

Cook Inlet researchers could use samples from the Gulf of Alaska bycatch samples, Myers said, to determine what fish are eating in the wintertime and give them a better idea of chinook distribution. 

After a discussion about hatchery research the symposium will end with more than an hour of questions and answers with researchers and the audience. 


During discussion of the marine environment for chinook salmon, scientists spoke about research on the environment, migration and food available for chinook salmon after they leave fresh water. 

Phil Mundy, researcher for NOAA and director of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Auke Bay Laboratories, said using the Pacific Decadal Oscillation as an explanation of the king salmon decline was too broad.

“I’m not a fan of the PDO, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. I think it served its purpose. I think it pointed out the importance of the marine variables in determining the survival of salmon in the ocean, but it’s a very blunt instrument,” he said. 

He called salmon “low cost biological autonomous underwater vehicles” that collect data throughout their lives.

“We just need to learn how to download the data when they return to spawn,” Mundy said.

He highlighted several types of data that should be researched in the marine environment including their diets, the location of the food the salmon eat and where juvenile salmon congregate along the coasts.

“I think in the case of most of our big rivers like the Yukon and the Kuskokwim, we have very little idea where the fish are when they’re in the near-shore marine environment,” he said.

Mundy suggested teaming up with other scientists who come to the North Pacific to conduct climate studies and other types of research, in order to make research on kings more affordable.

“I think salmon being a marine species, from my point of view it might seem odd to some people that we don’t spend more of our research budget studying salmon in the marine environment,” Mundy said. “People from all over the world come to our waters every year to study the climate…I think we need to heighten the awareness of people who go out on research vessels. We need to watch for these ships of opportunities, platforms of opportunities and try to get them to drag a net through the water once in a while.”

Another NOAA researcher, Ed Farley, addressed a lack of funding in his presentation as well.

As he presented the results of a study on juvenile chinook distribution in the Bering Sea, data from 2008 was missing, he said, because the group didn’t have the money. That funding has since been restored.   

Farley said his research suggested that sockeye salmon migrated differently in the cold weather than they did in the warm weather years.

“What we think what is going on is — it’s cold, they’re not growing as fast — so they’re not getting offshore as fast, so we’re not able to get them with our gear," Farley said.

He said further research connecting the impact of changes in climate with the growth rate of salmon to address a gap in marine knowledge.

An audience question and answer session followed the panel and scientists will talk about hatchery research and production during the afternoon session.

The conference can be streamed onlined at .

Questions for panel members can be submitted via the web as well.




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kenai123 11/14/12 - 01:20 am
The Great King Salmon Mystery

Is there anyone out there wondering why they couldn't catch any king salmon this year? Some are even calling it a king salmon crisis but few if any will attempt to answer the mysterious question as to where all of our king salmon are going. It's not a salmon crisis when your neighbor fails to catch kings, it's a crisis when you fail to catch them.
If you ask the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, they will claim that our freshwater rivers and streams are producing plenty of baby king salmon. The mystery appears to begin as these baby kings leave the relative safety of the freshwater and enter the extremely dangerous saltwater. Our ADF&G is currently telling us that SOMETHING in the saltwater is killing our king salmon. The mystery thickens as you try to follow a Cook Inlet baby king salmon's life habits as it attempts to survive the perils of the Pacific Ocean from Kodiak Island to the Gulf of Alaska and beyond. In order to discover where these kings are going you need to do a little research into what has changed out in the Pacific Ocean. One of the largest factors which is constantly changing is the amount of fish our Commercial Pollock Fisheries are harvesting and "by-catch killing" out on the Pacific Ocean.

From the 1950 - 1960 Commercial Pollock Fishing was non-existent because Pollock populations had been commercially wiped out prior to that but that changed as Pollock populations swelled by 1965. As soon as Commercial Pollock Fisheries spotted this they immediately greatly expanded their fishing efforts from 1965 to 1970 and caught about 2,000,000 metric tons of Pollock annually until they killed the fishery thus causing it's harvest to crash down to around 1,000,000 metric tons annually. Commercial harvest levels remained around 1,000,000 metric tons annually until around 1998 when our Pollock populations again blossomed thus causing our commercial Pollock fishermen to again take notice. Pollock catches then went to 1,400,000 metric tons annually until about 2008 when commercial fisheries again wiped these Pollock populations back down to the previous 1,000,000 metric tons annually again. After this decade of over fishing by 2008 Pollock production then began a general downward nose dive because of the all the commercial abuse. At the same time the whole sale price of Pollock then when through the roof as our Pacific Pollock production did not rebound and continues to crash to this day. How doe's this all affect king salmon in the Cook Inlet area? Our Commercial Fisheries research has proved that there are
approximately 4 king salmon killed and thrown over-board within each metric ton of Pollock harvest. At current Pollock
harvest levels this would result in a king salmon by-catch of about 4,000,000 adult king salmon annually. Our North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, NPFMC has set annual trawler by-catch kill caps on king salmon at
25,000 in the Gulf of Alaska and 60,000 in the Bering Sea. Our NPFMC has placed an annual 85,000 king by-catch cap on a possible 4,000,000 king trawler by-catch killing rate. We are forced to use our imagination as to where the other 3,915,000 possible dead adult kings are at. Some how our commercial fisheries harvest just never seems to go over that magic 85,000 king cap. which would shut them down.

While these commercial trawlers are busy killing these adult kings, they are also by-catching and tossing overboard
DEAD smaller bait fish which salmon feed on; thus also reducing the prey our salmon have access to. Tremendous schools of herring, cod, rockfish, sand fish, hooligan, candle fish, smelt, stickleback, wolf fish and squid have been permanently wiped out with this bait fish by-catch dumping. This environmental destruction then forces our salmon to forage longer to meet their daily and future calorie intake needs. Upon entering the ocean, young salmon require huge amounts of prey to allow them to build fat reserves sufficient to allow them to migrate back to their freshwater rivers and streams. During the years prior to returning to freshwater, salmon feed voraciously in order to grow and build strength for the coming journey back home. As trawlers kill and by-catch dump this salmon prey back into the ocean, they dramatically increase a salmons chances of never achieving sufficient fat reserves to make it back to their native freshwater rivers and streams. This by-catch killing and dumping of salmon prey then forces salmon to forage longer, thus exposing them to additional predator encounters with salmon hunting killer and beluga whales along with seals. The additional predator exposure and the fat reserve reduction then further reduces a salmons chances of ever returning to its freshwater home. What is happening here is these
commercial trawlers are hitting our salmon from all sides. By-catch kill & dump a salmon's food source actually works to kill salmon with a basic lack of fat reserves. If somehow a salmon is still able to stagger along anyway, the trawlers then force them to forage additional hours just to survive, thus causing them to encounter many more salmon hunting whales and seals. If by some chance they manage to survive all these indirect salmon killers, the trawlers then directly attack them with general salmon by-catch dumping. To make matters even worse, new emerging trawler technology is now allowing trawler operators to even view the dead contents of their
nets before the net reaches the surface of the water. These new in-net cameras are now allowing operators to spot nets saturated with dead salmon, while the net is still fishing underwater. This same technology has provided these operators with the ability to dump an entire net filled with salmon "before it even reaches the surface". What would you do when confronted with a net full of dead salmon which you cannot sell? These salmon are being dump dead just like all other marine life unfortunate enough to become trapped in these ecological killing machines. These trawler nets are the same type of ecological threat as floreral carbons to our
ozone layer or carbon dioxide to global warming and they all operating out of sight. Ecologists used to watch trawler by-catch in an attempt to control the marine destruction but commercial fisheries technology has leaped out in front of them and is now allowing nets full of anything to be dumped dead before even reaching the surface to be recorded as by-catch. Just about everything our salmon are trying to do to survive out in the ocean is under attack or is being interfered with by this commercial trawler fleet. The grand result of decades of this triple trawler wipe-out effect, (fat reserves, predator's and by-catch) is that very few salmon are
surviving to even attempt the journey back to their native rivers or streams

So you may ask what the solution is to all this unbelievable fisheries information? If you ask the Alaska Department
of Fish & Game they will point to a snow storm of data and grafts, which will leave you even more confused about
our commercial fisheries by-catch problems. My conclusion is that many things may need to change within our commercial fisheries but key within those changes is that statewide we must stop commercial fisheries from profiting when they kill non-targeted marine life as by-catch. This means that commercial fisheries should be legally required to retain and process ALL BY-CATCH and then DONATE ALL OF IT to a charity. That means that if you "by-catch kill" a beluga whale calf; you are forced to retain, process and donate it.
If you by-catch kill a king salmon: you must retain, process and donate it. By charity I mean some kind of Food Bank.
This would prevent commercial fisheries from donating by-catch to their favorite "commercial fisheries non-profit". This change alone, over time would eventually resolve most of Alaska's current by-catch problems. With this change commercial fisheries would eventually be forced to at least begin thinking about avoiding non-targeted by-catch.
The king salmon by-catch issue is 100% about money; if you can make by-catch non-profitable, commercial fisheries will eventually find a way to prevent the financial drain. If we leave things the way they are we will be permanently losing many marine specie and fisheries in the very near future. As long as commercial fisheries are allowed to profit from by-catch, the by-catch issue will never go away and therefore all our Alaskan natural resources and fisheries will go on suffering FOREVER. The new reality in our fisheries future must be that commercial by-catch is going to cost you BIG. It really does not matter if it is a large fine or the charity donation, the Alaskan [filtered word] needs hold commercial fisheries accountable for the marine destruction it is causing within our ocean. The wholesale slaughter of non-targeted species is no longer just acceptable losses. This mean that the Alaskan public must rise up and compel the Alaska Board of Fish and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council to
take action and make substantial changes in the way ALL by-catch is processed by ALL of our commercial fisheries.
This is a very reasonable goal for the Alaskan public to pursue in resolving this very unreasonable waste of our
common Alaskan natural resource heritage.

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