Alaska’s salmon go missing. Why?


It’s one of those environmental mysteries that would be fun and intrigueing, were it not so worrisome.

Alaska’s King Salmon disappeared from traditional river runs this year.  Again.

From Reuters:  A sockeye salmon scurries through shallow water in the Adams River while preparing to spawn near Chase, British Columbia northeast of Vancouver October 11, 2006.  REUTERS/Andy Clark

From Reuters: "A sockeye salmon scurries through shallow water in the Adams River while preparing to spawn near Chase, British Columbia northeast of Vancouver October 11, 2006. REUTERS/Andy Clark"

Reasons could be one of many, or several:  Changing ocean currents, pollock fishing accidental catches of salmon, plankton blooms, conditions on the rivers, competition from “ranched” salmon.

Consumers may see only the rise in price and a change in labeling in the supermarket.

Effects on employment and food supply in Alaska are huge, and crippling.

Canada fisheries are affected, too.

Climate change probably plays a role, in any scenario anyone poses:

“It’s quite the shocking drop,” said Stan Proboszcz, fisheries biologist at the Watershed Watch Salmon Society. “No one’s exactly sure what happened to these fish.”

Salmon are born in fresh water before migrating to oceans to feed. They return as adults to the same rivers to spawn.

Several theories have been put forward to try to explain the sockeye’s disappearance:

* Climate change may have reduced food supply for salmon in the ocean.

* The commercial fish farms that the young Fraser River salmon pass en route to the ocean may have infected them with sea lice, a marine parasite.

* The rising temperature of the river may have weakened the fish.

The Canadian government doesn’t know what’s killing the fish, but believes the sockeye are dying off in the ocean, not in fresh water, based on healthy out-migrations, said Jeff Grout, regional resource manager of salmon for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

In this case, even a small change in climate can have huge effects on ecosystems and specific populations of animals.  It’s one of those climate change issues that climate change skeptics and denialists prefer not to talk about at all.  If, as they allege, concern over climate change is entirely political, driven by bad information and false claims from over-active environmentalists, these problems should not exist at all.

But the problems do exist.  A fishery that had been stable for 50 years previously, the entire time it was tracked so carefully, suddenly becomes fishless.  Watch those rivers and fisheries.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pamela Bumsted.

Help save the salmon; tell others:

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