October 18, 2012 | Vol. 110, No. 42

Fish Factor

Analysts appeal to public to solve mystery of disappearing king salmon

State fishery managers are asking for input from Alaskans to help solve the case of disappearing king salmon.

A letter went out last week from Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell inviting stakeholders to a two day symposium in Anchorage later this month titled ‘Understanding Abundance and Productivity Trends of Chinook salmon in Alaska.’ The stated goal is ‘to increase understanding and develop the most complete research plan possible.’

A draft analysis by a newly appointed fisheries research team represents initial efforts by the state to better understanding the causes for Chinook declines. The report, titled Alaska Chinook Salmon Knowledge Gaps and Needs, says that from 1994 through 2011, Chinook catches have decreased 7% for subsistence users, 40% for commercial fishermen and 12% for sport users. Chinook salmon make up only about one percent of Alaska’s annual commercial catch.

The analysis states that the Alaska-wide downturns in abundance of Chinook “has created social and economic hardships” in many regions and that “there is a significant need for ADF&G to better characterize and understand changing productivity and abundance across the state to identify actions that could be taken to lessen the hardships.”

While there are hundreds of individual Chinook salmon stocks throughout Alaska, the research team recommends that ADF&G establish a suite of “indicator stocks” that will “provide an ongoing index of statewide Chinook salmon productivity and abundances trends across a diversity of drainage types and size representing a wide range of ecological and genetic attributes from Southeast to Arctic waters.”

The team has selected stocks from 12 rivers: Unuk, Stikine, Taku, Chilkat, Copper, Susitna, Kenai, Karluk, Chignik, Nushagak, Kuskokwim and Yukon.

The report also accounts for bycatch in groundfish fisheries and says the average number taken in the Bering Sea from 2008-2011 has been about 19,000 Chinook. In the Gulf of Alaska, bycatch takes peaked in 2010 at nearly 55,000 king salmon – the North Pacific Council adopted a hard cap of 25,000 kings in 2011.

The registration form for the Chinook symposium asks for input in planning the event, and what questions should be considered in three sessions that cover Chinook stock assessments in Alaska, ecology and stock assessments in the marine environment, and the role of hatchery production and research in addressing observed trends.

The two day event will be streamed on the web. The Chinook symposium is set for October 22-23 at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage.

Cod rockets - Call it gray cod, true cod or P-cod – it’s arguably the most popular fish in the world. And catches are set to increase as stocks rebound around the world. Alaska boasts one of the biggest and most robust cod fisheries – combined harvests from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska next year could see slight increases to 331,000 metric tons or nearly 730 million pounds.

But that pales in comparison to the amount of cod coming out of the Barents Sea, which straddles Norway and Russia. Cod stocks there are considered the largest in the world and next year’s quota is set at a record one million metric tons, or 2.2 billion pounds! Adding to that will be another 56 million pounds from the North Sea, where cod stocks have been on an upward swing for six years.

The increasing numbers of cod fish from those waters have already pulled Europe from Alaska’s fish market and put a downward press on dock prices to between 30-35 cents a pound, down about a dime. Alaska fishermen get a double whammy because most of the cod they’re pulling aboard are smaller sized; European fishermen have the same complaint, according to the Joint Norwegian/Russian Fisheries Commission.

Researchers believe cod could get even smaller because of rising sea temperatures. University of British Columbia fish scientists studied 600 species of fish across the world’s oceans.

“This is the first study that looks at the changes in the maximum body size of fish on a global scale,” said William Cheung, co-author of the study.

Using computer modeling, the scientists concluded that fish sizes could shrink by 14 to 24 per cent over the next 40 years. Cheung explained that as water warms, cold-blooded fish will see an increase in their body temperature, which speeds up their metabolism. While the demand for oxygen increases as fish grow, their ability to obtain it slows down and triggers a stop to their growth.

Lost pots sought – Skipper Oystein Lone of the Catcher/Processor Pacific Sounder has decided to do something about the high number crab pots lost under the record ice pack during last winter’s snow crab fishery. It’s estimated that 800 pots were lost valued at over $1 million.

Lone has set up an email address where any vessels fishing in the Bering Sea can report the ADF&G tag number and position of lost crab pots they come across. Lists of pot sightings and locations will be posted at the ADF&G office in Dutch Harbor. That way other crab boats can pick up the pots as they pass through an area, or boat owners can find out where they are and retrieve them.   It also provides an opportunity for catcher processors and longliners to help recover the gear, Lone said..

Gear information can be posted at lostcrabpots@gmail.com

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