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AK Beat: Alaska's poor king salmon returns may benefit Pacific Northwest

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  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published September 28, 2013

Bad salmon news for Alaska, good for Northwest US: More bad news for Alaska king salmon fishermen comes in the form of good news for folks in the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle Times is reporting a record run of fall Chinooks -- "the largest in 75 years" -- to the Columbia River. How can this be bad news for Alaska? Easy. It's more evidence for what scientists call the PDO, or Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a shift in ocean temperatures that alters production in the North Pacific ecosystem. As a general rule, according to researchers at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, when the ocean cools, returns of king and silver salmon to the Pacific Northwest rise and returns of those fish to Alaska go down. The ocean is now in a cooling phase. Indications are that this is bad for Alaskans who depend on king salmon but good for the Pacific Northwest, where, the science center notes, "the listing of several salmon stocks as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act coincides with a prolonged period of poor (i.e. warm) ocean conditions that began in the early 1990s.''

A very wet fall: After a couple spectacular mid-summer months, Southcentral Alaska weather has turned wet. Very wet. August with 5.42 inches was one of the wettest on record, and September is following suit, making 2013 the second wettest year to date, according to the National Weather Service. The 5.68 inches of September precipitation for Anchorage through Sept. 25 is already more than double the average of 2.5 inches. "This September has exceeded the standard," the weather service said. But such damp conditions are hardly unheard of. Just last year, Anchorage absorbed 6.49 inches of September rain, making it the third wettest September on record behind the 7.35 inches in 2004. Clearly, 2013 is a year of extremes, though: The same summer we set a record for the most consecutive days over 70 degrees, we also tied the mark with the most consecutive days of rainfall.

Fortymile caribou herd concerns: Caribou hunting north of Eagle near the Alaska-Canada border was reportedly good earlier this week, which pretty much freaked out the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The problem? Eagle residents were killing the wrong caribou. "The Fortymile Caribou Herd made a sudden movement north of the Yukon River into southern Unit 25B, and we need to close the season to prevent over-harvest of the herd," area wildlife biologist Jeff Gross told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. The Fortymile herd, which ranges across a vast section of Interior Alaska north and east of Fairbanks, is usually hunted heavily, and the season for hunting those caribou has closed across their normal range. But the season was wide open north of the Yukon, where the bag limit is 10 caribou per day to allow for substantial subsistence harvests of the little-hunted caribou in the Porcupine herd, which numbers some 160,000 animals, according to one estimate, and ranges between Alaska's North Slope and Canada. The Fortymile herd numbers about 50,000 caribou. Biologists got a little panicky at the thought of even a handful of hunters killing Fortymile caribou at the rate of 10 per day.

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