Kodiak sockeye crash has cure

Laine Welch

Sockeye salmon stocks have bottomed out at some of Kodiak's biggest producing systems. The Karluk, dubbed the "green goddess" by sports anglers, along with its two sister systems on the island's west side, for decades produced yearly harvests that topped 1 million reds. Last year, catches were a quarter of that.

"It's a massive drop," said Gary Byrne, operations manager for the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, explaining that the crash hit in 2008. "Those fish are averaging five pounds each, so you're talking about millions of dollars just in ex-vessel value, never mind what it means to the communities as those fish move through."

Byrne described the sockeye crash as a biological, cultural and economic crisis.

Kodiak fish scientists encountered a similar sockeye depletion problem in the west side systems in the 1980s. They successfully turned it around through a five-year nurturing program that produced for decades. Now they want a chance to revive the reds again

"Lake fertilization -- it works. That's all there is to it," said Dave Kaplan, a Kodiak Island borough Assemblyman and former state fish and game biologist. The borough has contributed $50,000 to support a KRAA lake-enrichment project to begin next year. The plan also is positioned to receive $700,000 in research funds from the state.

Think crop duster, said Kaplan. "A mixture of nitrogen and phosphorus is air-dropped from a plane onto the rearing lakes," he explained. "It jump-starts the phytoplankton bloom where it all begins."

The process is repeated over five years to match the life cycle of sockeye salmon.

The lack of Karluk reds returning to their home lakes hurts production in two ways: low numbers of small fry and fewer nutrients from salmon carcasses.

Unlike pink salmon, which mostly spawn and die in rivers and are washed out to sea, sockeye carcasses remain in lakes and creeks and contribute essential nutrients to the system as they decompose.

"If you don't have enough algae and plankton, then you're not going to have enough bugs and crustaceans and zooplankton to feed the fish. So that is the process we are trying to address from the bottom up," said Byrne. "We want to try to recover and stabilize that productivity to be more like what we were accustomed to over the past couple of decades."

The KRAA lake enrichment project would occur in partnership with ADF&G and the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.

"In the fifth, sixth and seventh years we'll be experiencing larger sockeye returns and escapements so we will be able to step away," Byrne said. "The additional fish returning to the system will provide the nutrients."

Pending funding and permits, Byrne said the "best-case scenario for the first application of nutrients is May 2012."


The New York Times reports that consumer worries about radiation have led to a big run on sales of one Japanese food: seaweed. Natural food stores and Asian markets on the West Coast said they had seen a run on seaweed ever since the nuclear reactors in Japan began leaking radiation. Some consumers view seaweed as a natural source of normal iodine, which can help protect the thyroid gland against exposure to radioactive iodine.

Otter deterrent

In England otters are being kept away from local fishing areas with lion dung from the London Zoo. The poo is mixed into a spray and squirted around the ponds and lakes where otters are stealing fish. The otters have disappeared overnight, according to the New Zealand Herald.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. Her information column appears every other Sunday in the Anchorage Daily News. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting or placing on your website or newsletter, contact msfish@alaska.com.