Laine Welch: Fish and Game wants help figuring out king decline

FisheriesOctober 13, 2012 

State fishery managers are asking Alaskans to help figure what to do about 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. 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 an initial effort by the state to better understand the king declines.

The report, titled Alaska Chinook Salmon Knowledge Gaps and Needs, says that from 1994 through 2011, Chinook catches have decreased 7 percent for subsistence users, 40 percent for commercial fishermen and 12 percent for sport users. King salmon make up only about 1 percent of Alaska's annual commercial catch.

While there are hundreds of individual king salmon stocks throughout Alaska, the research team recommends that ADF&G establish a suite of "indicator stocks" to "provide an ongoing index of statewide chinook salmon productivity and abundance 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 kings.

In the Gulf of Alaska, bycatch peaked in 2010 at nearly 55,000 kings -- the North Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted a hard cap of 25,000 kings in 2011.

The meeting will be streamed on the web. The symposium will be Oct. 22-23 at the Egan Civic & Convention Center.

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 from those waters have already pulled Europe from Alaska's fish market and put a downward press on dock prices to between 30 and 35 cents a pound, down about a dime. Alaska fishermen get a double whammy because most of the cod they're pulling aboard have been smaller. European fishermen have the same complaint.

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. Using computer modeling, scientists concluded that fish sizes could shrink by 14 to 24 percent over the next 40 years.

William Cheung, co-author of the study, 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.


Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact msfish@alaska.com.

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