Alaskans will celebrate Alaska Wild Salmon Day on Aug. 10, but plans also are underway for a much bigger celebration: the International Year of the Salmon set to officially begin in 2019.
The theme is "Salmon and people in a changing world," and a key focus will be a winter salmon study in the deepest regions of the Gulf of Alaska.
Both are sponsored in part by the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, which for 25 years has promoted research collaboration among scientists in its five member countries – Canada, Russia, Japan, Korea and the U.S.
"The main inspiration for development of this project is our awareness of the challenges salmon meet in the open ocean related to the climate and in the coastal areas," said Dr. Vladimir Radchenko, commission director and one of the world's leading salmon scientists.
A primary goal of Year of the Salmon is to get more people involved in protecting salmon and "coastal societies." The aim of the Gulf project, Radchenko said, is to better understand the ocean phase of the salmon's life cycle. Doing so would improve knowledge to help forecast salmon abundance and carrying capacity of the North Pacific.
Researchers have some fragmented understanding of salmon distribution in the deep Gulf area from several surveys starting in the late 1980s. But the surveys were small and the results contradictory, Radchenko said. The project set for next winter will be done with trawl gear and cover a vast area in international waters, 200 miles from shore.
"During the winter, all salmon species migrate offshore and we have compared patterns of distribution seen in previous surveys and found that the main spots of salmon aggregation should be located beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone in February and March," Radchenko said.
He added: "It will be a deep survey at about 72 trawl stations and include oceanographic testing of temperature and concentrations of all physical and chemical elements as well as plankton cages so we will have information on the whole ecosystem. We also will take scale samples to determine the salmon origins."
Based on the survey results, Radchenko said researchers "may conclude the current state of the salmon stocks which spend the winter in the Gulf of Alaska."
He said scientists in all countries believe that major salmon stocks are facing challenges from the impacts of climate change, especially in southern areas of the North Pacific where warming water circulation patterns are wreaking havoc on salmon food sources.
"The warming could make some ocean waters unsuitable for salmon. It is one of the biggest climate changes problems evident now, maybe more important than ocean acidification" he added.
The 2019 winter survey will include scientists from all member countries and is set to be the first of many, depending on funds.
Alaska lays claim to more than half of the nation's coastline, nearly two-thirds of its seafood catches and more ocean than any other region. But Alaska's economic output accounts for only about 4 percent of the U.S. ocean economy.
The Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, or OCI, aims to create a more diversified and resilient "blue economy" by getting more value from our oceans.
"Globally the oceans are being viewed as the last economic frontier and there is a big push to develop them. Our hope is that Alaska becomes a leader in this blue economy and sustainable development of our ocean resources," said Joel Cladouhos, director of the OCI which began a year ago in partnership with the Bering Sea Fishermen's Association.
The concept is modeled after a program used in Iceland since the 1970s which seeds an "economic ecosystem" of industry, academics, business and government to create a blue growth strategy.
Cladouhos believes it is a good fit for Alaska's well-developed marine infrastructure and can build upon many programs and projects that already exist, such as the Alaska Maritime Workforce Initiative and statewide expansion of mariculture. Blue startups can run the maritime gamut for businesses in or around the ocean, including coastal tourism, marine transportation and emerging sectors such as marine biotechnology and ocean technology.
A blue economy also could help provide year-round employment in Alaska's 200 coastal communities. The OCI believes "going blue" can provide 50,000 jobs and a $3 billion dollar payroll by the year 2040, making it as significant as the oil industry is today.
"Oil has provided incredible economic impact in Alaska and we would not be where we are today without it," Cladouhos said. "But we want the conversation to be around pipelines of innovation and entrepreneurship in the future. And that would drive economic benefit and job growth that is larger than the oil industry today."
The biggest roadblock, the OCI believes, stems from Alaska's business model. Since the U.S. purchased Alaska in 1867, the approach has been to extract natural resources and export the raw materials out of the state. That commodity driven extraction model produces boom and bust cycles. The solution is to build a new, forward looking economy that creates value from our natural resources in a way that is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable.
The Ocean Cluster has launched several programs over the past year to enhance the "blue economy mindset" among Alaskans.
Ocean Tuesdays are one-hour weekly webinars on a range of topics. Two-day Blue Storm workshops are customized to local areas. A virtual Blue Pipeline Incubator advises ocean-based startups and so far has attracted several companies ranging from smokehouses to net hangers to fish fertilizers to vessel inspections using drones. A six week Google Ocean Technology team event attracted nearly Alaska 30 sponsors.
The OCI will use a $391,000 federal grant from the economic development administration to do outreach to more entrepreneurs.
"We want to expand in Alaska," Cladouhos said. "Anyone can reach out to us and we can start to move forward with developing their ideas." More information can be obtained by emailing email@example.com.
More tariffs and eyes on endangered species
Donald Trump announced on Aug. 1 that he is escalating his trade war with plans to increase the tariff on Chinese exports to the U.S. from 10 percent to 25 percent. (That is in addition to the 25 percent tariff on U.S. goods being sent to China that went into effect on July 6.)
The list of goods affected includes nearly every U.S. seafood product. In terms of a bail out similar to that being proposed for farmers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates an aid package for the commercial fishing and processing industry would cost over $1 billion to offset the impact of trade taxes to their businesses.
Public comments can be made the U.S. Trade Office through Sept. 5.
Also on the federal docket: Trump and his team have turned their eyes to scaling back protections in the Endangered Species Act.
Last week the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed changes to the way species are listed or removed from protections, and how critical habitat designations are made. New language also would allow officials for the first time to consider the economic consequences of listing a species.
The New York Times called it "the most sweeping set of changes in decades" to the regulations used to enforce the Act.
Comments on proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act can be made through Sept. 24 at regulations.gov.