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 http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=chinook_efforts_symposium.information .
Questions for panel members can be submitted via the web as well.