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Salmon kill salmon?

chinook declineThe mystery surrounding the shrinking size and number of Alaska king salmon might be as simple as this: The biggest, most highly prized salmon in the north simply can’t compete with the billions of little hatchery fish now dumped into the North Pacific Ocean every year.

So suggests a team of West Coast fishery scientists.

Their hypothesis flips on its head the idea that the problem is the Chinooks (kings) killed at sea by trawlers and suggests that the humpies (pink) and dog (chum) salmon pumped into the ocean by salmon ranchers in Alaska, Japan and Russia are more important.

The study would indicate that Alaska salmon ranching, which was largely state funded in the beginning, might play a part in helping to over-stuff the ocean with hungry pinks and chums that so efficiently gobble up available food that survival rates plummet for Chinook salmon, which in good years help to feed a lot of low-income Alaskans along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers in Western and Central Alaska.

“It sure doesn’t surprise me,” Dave Cannon, a fisheries biologist living the small village of Aniak on the Kuskokwim, said Sunday. One of about 500 residents there, he cautioned, however, “that trying to definitively prove this stuff is difficult.”

Powerful political and business interests tied to the state’s private non-profit (PNP) hatchery system are sure to challenge the research, Cannon said. Those hatcheries have been a good investment for fishermen who have in recent years paid assessments to help fund them.

They got their money back and more. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the PNP hatcheries in 2017 put an estimated $331 million into the pockets of commercial fishermen.

On a purely fiscal level, the hatchery program begun by the Fisheries and Rehabilitation and Enhancement Division of Fish and Game during the 1970s salmon crash has been a rousing success.

The entire, statewide salmon harvest in 1973 and 1974 was 22 million fish per year. The 25 PNP hatcheries run primarily to benefit commercial fisheries now produce a catch more than twice that size. Forty-seven million hatchery pinks were caught last year despite what were considered mediocre hatchery returns.

Subsistence, personal-use and sport fishermen did catch some PNP fish, but at 196,000 last year their harvest amounted to less than half of a percent. And what they lose because of the hatcheries might exceed what they gain.

In a peer-reviewed paper published Wednesday in Marine and Coastal Fisheries – Dynamics, Management and Ecosystem Science, researchers Gregory T. Ruggerone from Seattle and Jim Irvine from Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, suggest the huge production of hatchery chums and pinks could be depressing wild populations of both kings and silvers (cohos), the most prized sport fish in the 49th state.

“In Alaska, declines in size at age and abundance of Chinook salmon and coho salmon and a decrease in age at maturation in Chinook salmon may be related to the alteration of the food web by highly abundant pink salmon and higher mortality during late marine life,” they write.

“Salmon abundance in large areas of Alaska (Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska), Russia (Sakhalin and Kuril islands), Japan, and South Korea are dominated by hatchery (pink and chum) salmon. During 1990–2015, hatchery salmon represented approximately 40 percent of the total biomass of adult and immature salmon in the ocean.”

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Hatchery costs

Ruggerone and Irvine were joined by six other West coast scientists in preparing another paper suggesting hatchery pinks might be altering the entire North Pacific ecosystem and contributing to Chinook declines. They presented at the 19th Salmon Ocean Ecology Meeting in Newport, Ore. in February.

The paper went a step beyond the earlier work in pondering whether hatchery pinks started a “trophic cascade” affecting seabirds, Chinook and coho salmon, plankton and possibly even sockeye salmon. Trophic cascades are changes, usually predation related, that ripple through an ecosystem from top to bottom.

Wolf removal is the classic ecological example: Wolves are eliminated. Deer populations explode. Hungry deer denude the forest understory. The loss of the understory creates a desert beneath the trees with implications that penetrate all the way into the soil which affects the trees above.

The theory as regards hatchery fish is similar but somewhat opposite. Instead of predators being removed, they are added. The results, as outlined by Ruggerone and others in their hypothesis, are these:

  • Boosted by hatchery pink, chum and sockeye, North Pacific Ocean salmon stocks increased to historically high numbers.
  • All those salmon, especially pink salmon, eat so much they alter the food chain in ways that reduce prey for Chinook and coho salmon.
  • Food shortages lead to reduced growth of Chinook and coho at sea.
  • Reduced growth translates into higher ocean mortality, especially of females, and a return of smaller-sized Chinook spawners with a lower ratio of females-to-males for both Chinook and coho.

Fisheries biologist have long known the importance of ocean survival for salmon, a species stalked by death from egg to adult. A 2007 study of chums in the Kwethluk River of Western Alaska estimated 56 million eggs were spawned there that year, but only about 2.9 million chum salmon fry made it to the ocean a year later.

About 95 percent died as eggs or alevins in the gravel of the river or as fry after emergence. Still, there were 2.9 million going to sea where every percent change in marine survival could make a big difference.

A 1 percent improvement or decline would equal 29,120 fish; a two percent improvement, 58,420; a three percent improvement, 87,360. And a study of wild pink salmon at Auke Creek near Alaska’s capital city of Juneau found marine survival varying from a low of 3.6 percent to a high of 29.7 percent over the course of 14 years, thus illustrating the nearly tenfold importance of what happens at sea.

With Alaska Chinook runs weak in recent years and no obvious reasons for increased freshwater mortality – Alaska hasn’t built any major dams or started any major mines or boosted agriculture – biologists have been increasingly looking to the ocean for the cause of the Chinook decline.

But to date, only limited attention has been paid to possible hatchery influences on Chinook survival. The preoccupation has been with Chinook by-catch in dirty trawl fisheries.

Easy target

Battles over the indiscriminate nets dragged beyond offshore trawlers have raged for years. Trawlers mine the sea for more than 2 million metric tons of bottomfish per season. The catch is worth about $1 billion per year, and most of the profit goes south to the Pacific Northwest.

Were that not enough, the trawlers drag up and kill a significant number of Chinook and highly valuable halibut in the process of catching those tons of pollock, pacific cod and rockfish. They accidentally snared about 61,000 immature Chinook last year, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries.

Trawlers are prohibited from keeping those fish. Most of the catch goes to Seashare, a Seattle-based non-profit organization that distributes seafood to the nation’s poor. But despite the prohibition on profiting from Chinook and the donation to the poor, trawlers are easy for Alaskans to hate given the kings they kill and the profits they make.

Bottomfish helped make a billionaire of Chuck Bundrant,  the founder and majority owner of Seattle-based of Trident Seafoods. 

The trawl by-catch represents less than 10 percent of the total Alaska catch of Chinook, most of which is taken in the commercial and subsistence fisheries. Still even a little matters a lot to many in a state where kings are both prized and worshipped.

When king salmon runs faltered on the Kuskokwim in 2012 and fishing closures were ordered, a civil revolt arose.  Alaska Natives claimed their culture couldn’t exist without fishing. Many put out their nets in violation of the closure and about two-dozen ended up charged with illegal fishing. Most went to court to fight the charges.

A bunch wanted to see an end to trawl by-catch, a goal just about impossible to achieve without shutting down the fishery that provides the main ingredient for McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish.

And the Filet-O-Fish, according to Business Insider, is “one of President Donald Trump’s favorites….He’s known to put away two of the fish sandwiches at a time, along with two Big Macs and a large chocolate shake.”

Even before Trump’s arrival in the White House, however, the less than 30,000 people of Western Alaska didn’t have much chance of shutting down a $1 billion business with deep political connections.

The Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents, the Fairbanks-based Tanana Chiefs Conference and about 100 Alaska Native tribes (almost every village in the state is a tribe) did petition federal authorities to reduce the by-catch of Chinook in the Bering Sea by two-thirds in 2014, but got nowhere.

It was noted then that the question of what has reduced king salmon numbers is a difficult one, and that simply blaming the trawlers might be oversimplifying things.  The ocean ecosystem is extremely complex given that prey often grow up to become predators in a system where everything pretty much eats everything else and the only constant is that the bigger fish eat the smaller fish.

The latest studies raise almost as many questions as they answer about what goes on beneath the surface of the sea, but two of the Ruggerone and Irvine observations should be particularly interesting and possibly a little troubling for Alaskans.

The first is that “total adult (salmon) biomass—and especially adult plus immature biomass—has been relatively stable from 1993 through 2015, suggesting that the carrying capacity of the ocean may have been reached during the post‐1977 regime,” Ruggerone and Irvine write. “This finding leads to the question: Would natural‐origin salmon rebound if hatchery production was significantly reduced?”

It also leads to another question: Will adding yet more hatchery fish increase overall production or only depress wild Alaska salmon runs?

The second observation in the Ruggerone and Irvine study is, however, the troubling one. Alaskans who fish – be they commercial, subsistence, personal-use or sport fishermen – have benefited greatly from the North Pacific warming that started late in the 1970s and has continued.

How much of that is related to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and how much to global warming is the subject of debate, but if it is the former and the PDO reverts to the cold cycle, “as it was from the 1940s through the 1960s,” Ruggerone and Irvine aksed, “will natural‐origin salmon abundances decline more than they would without hatchery salmon? Answering these questions is beyond the scope of our paper, but they are important areas for future research.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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73 replies »

  1. Even longtime industrial sized hatchery proponent Steve Reifenstuhl agrees with Craig! Steve stated in an interview in Fish Factor over this issue:

    “certainly increased competition can decrease salmon body size, as we’ve often seen in big runs..”
    This statement effectively admits that hatcheries spewing out extra mouths know they are stealing poundage and money away from wild fisherman. It is another form of interception.
    Lets call a spade a spade!
    Great article Craig!

    Like

    • N Huller, if you read Reifenstuhl’s statement, he is referring to competition between hatchery fish in “big runs”, not competition between hatchery fish and wild fish.
      Certainly could be the case but Reifenstuhl is not saying anything of the sort.

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  2. Steve Stine, You still haven’t told us where you observed those small Copper River kings last year that you felt were weird looking. What did you mean by “small” and “weird looking?”

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    • Sorry Bill,
      Been out in the sun.
      I observed the small kings in my net dipnetting last year on the Copper…left from Chitna by boat.

      All fish were small (including my reds that I took home), but the kings seemed darker than jacks I have seen in the mat su…more like a Chum.
      It seemed weird so many groups were landing these small kings in nets, but very few larger kings?

      I just had not experienced that over there the last 3 or 4 years dipnetting?

      Right away, I thought what hatchery are these fish coming from…Japan?

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      • What makes you think they are hatchery fish? Were any hatchery fish prevalent on the Copper they would show up in gillnet catches and those processors would know if they were any numbers. Also the fishermen would know the difference, but that may not be common knowledge. Did you notice net marks on your fish?
        When you say small, what do you mean? That’s a relative term, of course, but how small? They may b e jacks but if that’s the case then there would be an expected good run coming next year if there are large numbers of them. I suspect that what you saw was an outlier for that particular week-end and not something that occurred for the entire king run, otherwise there would have been some concern. My guess is CR kings got their needed escapement by the closure of the entire inside fishery and those fish never encountered a net before entering the river. And they kept coming as fishery only worked a few tides a week.
        Copper River reds have had some small sizes over some recent years (around 5-5 1/2 lbs) and I suspect that gillnets are adjusted accordingly, otherwise there could be escapements of smaller fish that perhaps you were able to catch.
        Not the same for king salmon since they are caught in red gear. How many kings did you observe in your dipnet? Anyway, I don’t think a jack king on the Copper would turn any darker than a mature king but Copper River king salmon are darker than most king salmon to begin with. They don’t look like those troll caught king salmon that are bright as a silver dollar.

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      • Yes,
        Many fish had net marks at the copper river last summer… I was not recording which fish had the marks, but probably almost 1/4 of day’s catch.
        I probably caught 3 or 4 kings that day out of 36 or so netted.
        You know, a couple jump out and you are allowed to keep one, so I did not exam them all that well, they just were not bright like the “jacks” I am used to catching.
        A 7 pound fish was big for that day in early July.

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      • If you mean 7 lbs for the kings of that day then indeed you only caught jacks. They must all be headed to the same source to be concentrated like that IMO.
        Dark color, I suspect, is the norm for CR kings as they are pretty dark in the ocean.
        I remember in the early 80s, seeing a bunch of roasts of Yukon River Kings in a Wasilla grocery store and they had a golden hue to them. Not sure what commercial fishery they came from but probably towards the mouth would be my guess. I didn’t buy any and have been kicking myself ever since as they are the cadillac of kings.

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  3. While I’m certainly no university educated fisheries biologist or scientist, over the last 60 years I have commercially fished all of coastal British Columbia and much of Alaska (while Canadians still could). I live and work on the Pacific Ocean 365 days per year and have always considered myself a keen observer and a life-long student of Mother Nature.
    Having said that, I believe the relationship between the Pacific herring and Chinook salmon is missing from the above article.
    Herring are a keystone species and a crucial link in the coastal food chain. Herring are the preferred food of Chinook salmon and are eaten by a wide variety fish, birds and animals.
    Over the last 40 years, herring stocks in British Columbia and Alaska have been fished extremely hard—mainly for their roe, which is highly prized in Japan.
    I have watched herring stocks along BC’s coast plummet and where there was once abundant herring spawn, now we have empty beaches.
    I firmly believe that the decline in Chinook salmon (and their size) along the Pacific Northwest Coast can be directly linked to the decline in the herring biomass.
    We simply can’t take hundreds of thousands of tons of herring out of the Pacific food web without drastic consequences to the fish and animals that depend on them to sustain life.

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  4. Lots of emotions and facts in this article and they are all thrown together even though there isn’t any science to support ideas that hatchery salmon are out competing wild fish for food in the ocean.
    Its well known that Alaska has entered a PDO shift unfavorable for ocean king production. Additionally, king body size has shrunk ive the last 30 years coast wide for North missing stocks while Southern OR and CA stocks body size remains relatively in tact.
    Ocean harvest as bycatch in trawl and targeted in troll king fisheries of juvenile kings clearly is one of the primary cultprits to the body size reduction of these fish.
    Not to mention wild sockeye and silver salmon are reaping the benefits of this PDO shift suggesting large shifts in prey availibility.
    To clarify most AK sticks have two age classes of female kings age 4, 5, 6 with a low percentage of age 3 and while age 2 and 3 are 90% male. Female percentages have been found to be less then 25% for some odd these runs due to selective commercial and subsistence gill net harvests. This is in addition to ocean harvests that favor selection for maturity at younger ages.
    The idea that hatchery fish are some how magically impacting these populations when all the known culprits I cited above is truly agenda based science at its best

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    • Ty: ok. i bite. if the science is “agenda-based” here, what’s the agenda?
      and what are your credentials to argue these scientists don’t have the science to support their hypothesis on competition? which hatchery did you work at?

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    • Agree on the PDO shift and increased at-sea harvest of juvenile Kings, but I’m unaware of any data showing commercial or subsistence gillnets are selective toward females. If anything they are selective toward small, early returning males. I do think competition with hatchery stocks could be a factor but also think it is being overblown.

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      • I have to say that I would have no idea how to selectively harvest female kings. Unless it would involve releasing live males, while keeping females. What would be the purpose??

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      • Todd: what’s the evidence for an increased at-sea harvest?i don’t see it in the numbers.
        the PDO exists. it is in this case deeply debatable.
        i’ve never seen any data on net selection for sex; it’s for size. the size issue could favor males or females in some circumstances but not all.
        i would tend to agree with your observation on selection for smaller fish (though the net doesn’t care about sex), but any recent observations are skewed by a population that has weighted smaller in recent years. plus we don’t have a clue as to dropout rates which could affect the equation.
        hatchery competition might indeed be overblown. make the case and convince me.
        https://craigmedred.news/2018/04/12/deadly-success/

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      • Craig – current average annual saltwater Chinook sport harvest in AK alone is 3 times higher than it was in the 80’s, despite there likely being less fish available to harvest. Saltwater fishing effort just in my area (Cook Inlet/K-Bay) is 5-6 times higher than it was in the late 80’s. I assume the increased harvest/pressure trend holds true up and down the PNW coast. Anyone who’s spent time in Homer can attest that Saltwater pressure on these fish is WAY higher than it used to be, and most folks think nothing of stuffing their Creel full of 5lb dinks. Not blaming this as the cause, but certainly a factor which I cannot believe you would question. Decades of ADFG studies have shown gillnets <6" in mesh size to be quite selective towards smaller Kings. As for hatcheries – I receive marginal utility from hatchery operations despite being taxed for them (as a commercial fisherman). Honestly, I bet I currently benefit more from hatchery stocks in my sportfishing endeavors than I do commfishing, but either way I have no impetus to convince you of anything. Funny though – all your crying about fake news and big media – you've taking the hatchery competition concept – one which you admit is a theory at best – and ran with it. Instead of looking for definitive proof of the theory, you assume it's true and put the burden on others to prove otherwise. Exactly the kind of science that you and your crew has supported over the last decades and it has not helped our fish stocks one bit. Don't let me stop you from pumping out one piece after another about how our fish stocks are screwed, hatchery fish are evil, and the savior of man will arise from fish farms. You've probably got time for at least one more Parasite or Fukushima story before you move on to preemptively sandbagging ADFG inseason management one run at a time.

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      • Todd:
        to start with, effort is irrelevant. i’m sure the sport fish community would be happy to let you put your setnets in Cook Inlet all winter long so they could scream about how commercial fishing effort has quadrupled and something needs to be done about those damn setnetters.

        second, i didn’t “admit” food competition is a theory. i said straight up “it’s a theory.”

        it’s also a theory based in sound science. the way you find out whether a theory is valid or not is you investigate it. that takes some form of support because research costs money.

        if i was a commercial fisherman in Cook Inlet and saw an annual sockeye harvest half of what it was before the hatcheries powered up, i’d be wanting someone to investigate. it’s mind boggling to me that you don’t. or that you want to obfuscate the issue with a discussion of saltwater Chinook harvests.

        i can’t imagine how loud you’d be screaming if sport fish/personal-use supporters showed up before the Board of Fish to demand they be given half your Inlet sockeye allocation.

        meanwhile, on this sidetracking issue, i have no idea where you find data to suggest a statewide Chinook sport harvest three times higher than in the 1980s. the state’s online data doesn’t go back that far, but it does go back to 1996 when the total statewide sport catch of Chinook was 147,382; that fell to 146,172 in 2016, the last year for which data is available. (https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/sf/sportfishingsurvey/index.cfm?ADFG=region.home)

        i do agree king salmon effort has gone up in the Kachemak Bay area of the Inlet and in Resurrection Bay. the winter king fishery (Sept. to March 31) didn’t even exist when i moved to Anchorage in the ’80s. it now is a bit of a “thing.”

        and as i’m sure you know, the Board of Fish in 2016 extended that season from Oct. into Sept. because “the kings harvested in the marine fishery south of the Anchor Point Light are almost all non-local stocks.” http://homernews.com/homer-news/business/2016-12-07/board-denies-most-winter-king-proposals

        the Board also upped the guideline harvest level from 3,000 to 4,500 so Alaskans could poach more Canadian and Columbia River fish.

        on a purely personal level, i wouldn’t be opposed to rolling that fishery back to October and a GHL of 3,000 Chinook. it’s a relatively new fishery, and on purely ethical grounds, i’m not sure we should be encouraging new fisheries to take advantage of harvesting other people’s fish.

        most of those “non-local stocks” aren’t even Alaskan. yes, there are some Copper River and Southeast Chinook in the mix, but the winter king fishery is largely built on Alaskans taking advantage of Canadian and Columbia River fishery and the hatchery production of the Columbia.

        the sport fishermen in Cook Inlet, of course, aren’t the only ones doing that.

        more than 50 percent of the commercial troll fishery harvest of Chinook in Southeast is now Columbia River fish. https://www.pdxmonthly.com/articles/2017/9/13/why-your-wild-alaskan-salmon-may-in-fact-be-very-oregonian

        and the commercial winter troll fishery off Southeast harvests more than five-times as many Chinook than are taken in Cook Inlet. i’m thankful for the lower-48 hatcheries that support that harvest. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/FedAidPDFs/FMR18-02.pdf

        i am not against hatcheries.

        neither am i for them.

        i don’t think they’re “evil” anymore or any less than i think fish farms are “evil.” it’s all nature tampering. humans have been doing that for thousands of years. it’s worked out for the better more often than for the worse. but there are times it has worked out for the worse. see “Silent Spring.”

        i do think Alaska hatcheries should be subject to careful scientific review and economic cost-benefit analysis because they’re not necessarily all goodness.

        hatcheries made the Prince William Sound pink fishery as Bill Heard, whose sort of the Godfather of this, has observed. he and i talked a lot about hatcheries in the late 70s when i worked in Juneau and this was all starting. Bill’s argument was that if hatcheries could be used to create an economy anywhere in Alaska without negative consequences elsewhere, it would be a good thing.

        i agree.

        the issue comes with the negative consequences part. if in fact – and we don’t know the fact, we only have the theory – but if in fact Sound hatcheries have contributed to a major drop in sockeye salmon returns to Cook Inlet and declines in Chinook and coho in the Inlet, i would see that as a negative that should be analyzed and discussed.

        even if it’s true, however, it might be that there is a sacrifice worth making. a cost-benefit analysis might conclude it’s worth taking sockeye salmon out of your Cook Inlet setnets and the Kenai River personal-use and sport fisheries to put pink salmon in Sound purse seines.

        i admit i don’t know. not knowing is why we study.

        what i do know is that i’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around the idea a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman wouldn’t want to know the answer to these questions. Cook Inlet fishermen want to worry about a Kodiak netters picking off a few hundred thousand sockeye bound for the Inlet, but they’re not concerned about the possibility millions of salmon could be annually lost to food competition with hatchery fish?

        that’s incredible.

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      • Craig, take a breath. Effort is absolutely relevant. In the case of saltwater King fisheries, it’s more people chasing and catching a limited and probably smaller number (or size) of fish. In the case of your new piece referencing Sockeye – it is complete nonsense to judge the size of a return by one user group’s harvest, and worse yet to reference harvest without considering effort. Ever heard of CPUE? They use it in those boring reports on the ADFG E-library – where you can find harvest estimates going back decades in order to get an accurate historical perspective. If you’re interested in that sort of thing. You paint a doom and gloom picture of Sockeye abundance by using Commercial harvest in one basin without accounting for restrictions due to politics, increased competition by other users, higher escapements, and restrictions due to low abundance of another Species (Kings).You made no effort to look at total run size, but if you did, you’d realize that overall Sockeye Sockeye abundance has been pretty damn good of late – historically speaking. Thanks for the education in the scientific process, but the answer I’m looking for begs the question “how can we increase salmon abundance”, not “are hatcheries good or bad”. It comes as no surprise that we have different questions and agendas.

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      • Todd:
        CPUE has absolutely nothing to do with total harvest or total return. nothing. people can put in all the effort in the world and catch nothing, and it’s still nothing.
        and i don’t paint any picture. i put some numbers out there.
        if you paint a picture, it’s your picture.
        the points you raise about restrictions due to politics, increased competition, and restrictions are as irrelevant as your points as to effort. but you are wholly right about escapements.
        so what i suggest you do is this: go back and take the harvest numbers from these periods, add in the kasilof and kenai escapements (you can add sport and personal use harvest if you want and yentna escapement, but my personal opinion is that they’re so small comparatively, it’s not worth the effort.)
        a comparison of commercial harvests + those two escapements for the years cited should be interesting. i’d guess we might an even bigger discrepancy between the two time frames. we caught 9.5 M sockeye in ’87 and still put 2.25 up the Kenai.
        and you might shift the needle a bit on overall returns, but i’m guessing it will look pretty much the same with Cook Inlet about half as productive for sockeye now as it was then.
        does that mean food competition did it? nope.
        does it mean food competition is worth further examination?
        well, if i was a guy making money off the fishery like you are, i think i’d say yes. but you seem to have your head stuck in some sand.
        and there’s no doubt sockeye abundance has been good as of late. we’ve all benefited from a positive PDO. Bristol Bay has really benefited. Cook Inlet hasn’t begun to benefit to the same degree.
        why is that?
        it’s another question.

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      • Craig – A simple data request to ADFG will net you total Sockeye run estimates in Excel form. You should have looked at it before stomping off into the weeds on this issue.

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      • and what you will find if you do that, Todd, is that harvests generally track run strength. and if you go back and probe ADF&G files you will also find Doug Eggers of ADF&G and Ray Hilborn of UW saying as early as 1999 that “hatchery production increased and wild production then declined.”
        that discussion within the department continued for years and then somehow got choked off.
        maybe people just accepted a new norm. it is what is and you live with it.
        personally, i’m not convinced there is a problem at an ecosystem level. but some scientists who know this stuff way better than me (albeit probably not nearly as good as you) think there’s enough evidence to suggest someone should start looking to see if there is an ecosystem problem.
        could be Mother Nature just doesn’t like Cook Inlet, though she’s sure been nice to Bristol Bay. could be we messed things up.
        as for your comments here, my observations in 40+ plus years of journalism have been that when someone isn’t acting in their own self interest, it usually means their self interest is not what it seems. which leads to the obvious questions:
        where is your financial interest in PWS, and/or who is paying you spew some nonsense that the state should ignore what could be an ecosystem problem?
        because here’s the difference between you and me:
        you’re sure there’s not a problem, and i don’t know. what i do know is that Cook Inlet runs have declined and food competition is a possible explanation.

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      • Craig,
        You say “Mother Nature just doesn’t like Cook Inlet, though she’s sure been nice to Bristol Bay. could be we messed things up.”

        Very good point.
        There are also no oil and gas drilling rigs in Bristol Bay, like there are in the Cook.
        How does active drilling effect salmon runs?

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      • Craig you clearly have not looked at the data. Sockeye returns to Cook Inlet averaged 6.5 million in the 80’s. They’ve average about 6 million every decade since. Less peaks and valleys in abundance now, and competition for the resource is higher, but runs are still very abundant. You can keep bitching that it’s not 1987 or put your boots on and go catch something. Personal choice.

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      • Todd:
        The 1985 to 1994 total return averaged 7.2 million (not 6.5) with an average harvest of 5.3M. That is easily looked up here: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/FedAidpdfs/RIR.2A.2003.11.pdf.
        But you do have to do the math to get the 10-year average.
        The total run for 2009 to 2017 is not so easily looked up, but the average harvest was 2.9M. If 6M per year were coming back in this time span and that was the catch, where did the extra 3.1 million go?
        The average return to the Kasilof for 2009-2017 was 357,000; for the Kenai, 1.38M. Add those numbers and you get 1.7M.
        A 2.9M harvest + 1.7M Kenai/Kasilof returns = 4.6M sockeye.
        If 6M came back, we’re missing 1.4M sockeye (6M – 4.6M = 1.4M). That’s a lot of sockeye. That’s another Kenai River full of sockeye.
        Did ADF&G undercount the Susitna-Yentna by more than 1M stealth sockeye? I say stealth sockeye because I spent some time on the Su-Yentna in these years and never saw any indication of sockeye coming back by the million-plus.
        Or am I ignorant as to some secret sockeye stream in the Inlet getting all these fish? Is there another Kenai you’ve been hiding from me?
        And let me now say once more, I DO NOT KNOW whether that old return average of 7.2M per year is the biological norm or if the new return of more like 4.8-5M per year is the norm, but what the science says is that young pink salmon and young sockeye salmon compete for food.
        And the science tells us that the mouth of Cook Inlet is an ecologically rich mixing zone where billions of young fish gather each year and compete for food. And the scientist in me is forced to ask whether all the pink salmon now in the mix – those being new fish added by man and not historical fish created by nature – are decreasing the survival odds for sockeye.
        It could well be that they’re not. But I’d like to know because I prefer a Cook Inlet rich in wild fish. You obviously have a different view. That’s fine.
        And if we are giving up 1M sockeye per year ormore in the Inlet – and again that’s an IF – to support those PWS hatcheries and their big pink harvest, the economic trade off might pencil out as a plus. And if that’s the case, that would be fine, too.
        But let’s stick to a factual discussion.

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      • Craig, I’m calling you on shitty data because I have a desire to see an Inlet full of natural, wild, healthy fish. You can question the numbers all you like, but as I said this is ADFG total return data, and they are better at estimating total return than you and I. As for the decreased commercial harvest, thanks for finally making it back around to my point: commercial harvest has completely changed. We are managing for more users and higher inriver goals than ever. Most of those additional fish have come from commercial harvest, not thin air. Imagine what might happen if we see a return of 2 Million fish like used to happen often. We’ve gotten used to consistently good abundance of Sockeye in UCI despite the lack of production from Susitna tribs. I went ahead and attached the link. Ran some random averages in the right hand column of the Didson chart. Imagine what that data might look like if Susitna was still producing good numbers of Sockeye. https://www.dropbox.com/s/5mt5n6w95klft1o/UCI%20Total%20Run_1972-2017.xlsx?dl=0

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      • Todd: it’s not my data. it’s ADF&G data.
        we did increase in-river goals. no doubt about that. the goal for the Kenai this year is 1 to 1.3M. if you go back and look at what we were actually putting in the Kenai on average in the period 1985 to 1994, it was 1.3M; so in reality, nothing changed.
        but i feel your pain as for higher in-river goals. they did take fish away from the commercial fishery.
        and if we see a return of 2M fish, it will be a disaster. but that DIDN’T “use to happen often.” it happened once. the 1.8M in ’79 when the ocean was cold. other than that, the total return never went below 2.5M, at least back to 1976, and since the start of the ’80s, we’ve been running ahead of that.
        again, check the data: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/FedAidpdfs/RIR.2A.2003.11.pdf
        what happens if the PDO flips on us while the hatcheries are continuing to pump out all those young fish (i know of no plan that calls for a scale back if that happens)? who knows. Ruggerone (personal communication) thinks the affect on wild fish could be significant. so do others. some actually believe excellent ocean conditions are to a significant extent masking problems we already have.
        the scientists could be wrong. they’ve been wrong before. and you could be right.
        me? i’d like to see some work on sorting out the interactions so – if the scientists are right – we don’t find out the hard way after the PDO flips.
        i was around in ’76. i remember what Alaska was like when our fisheries were a trainwreck. were you even born then?

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      • Craig I’m confused over what my birthday has to do with your improper use of harvest data or your false narrative on historical Cook Inlet Sockeye abundance, but I give up. If you didn’t catch fish last year It’s probably because there weren’t any. Go ahead and keep bitching that it’s not 1987. I’ll be out getting wet.

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      • Historical context, Todd; historical context.
        Humans are flawed in that for many of them their sense of history starts in about third grade and goes forward from there.
        Not that I’m complaining. I don’t have time for it or for bitching.
        Interesting facts; that’s another matter.
        You want to dismiss them with a Trumpesque wave of “fake news! fakes news!” You want to believe Inlet sockeye are returning at the same level as in a comparable 10-year period in the late ’80s and early ’90s even if they’re not.
        And you seem to be bent out of shape about someone asking whether the decline between then and now is natural or manmade, and about someone thinking maybe we should try to get an answer to that question.
        Maybe you just hate science. It does have a bad habit of sometimes telling us things we don’t want to hear:
        “All sockeye salmon stocks examined exhibited a downward trend in productivity with increasing PWS hatchery pink salmon returns (Fig 7, S3 Fig). While there was considerable variation in sockeye salmon productivity across the low- and mid-range of hatchery returns (0–30 million), productivity was particularly impacted at higher levels of hatchery returns. Pink salmon have been found to negatively affect sockeye salmon productivity and growth from British Columbia and Southeast Alaska [63,64], Bristol Bay [65], Kodiak [77,78], and Russia [79]. Pink and sockeye salmon compete in the marine environment due to a high degree of similarity in diets [40,80,81], including similarities in diets of adult pink salmon and juvenile sockeye salmon [82,83]. Our analysis was primary designed to test drivers in the nearshore environment, which is why we stopped at a lag of 2 (brood) years—when the majority of juvenile sockeye salmon outmigrate from the nearshore environment as adult pink salmon are returning to spawn. We do not know if possible deleterious interactions between hatchery pink salmon and wild sockeye salmon in this study are from predation or competition, or whether they occur in nearshore or offshore areas. Pink salmon feeding may cause a general depletion of prey availability [38] that could impact sockeye salmon without tight spatial overlap of these two species. In this regard, the apparent impact to sockeye productivity may reflect a general increase in pink salmon abundance across the NE Pacific rather than increased abundance of hatchery pink salmon to PWS in particular.”
        Now, that study is for PWS, and it might not affect Inlet. But, if the problem is in “offshore areas,” then it might well affect the Inlet.
        This whole conversation here makes me sad because I know from past interactions, you’re smarter than you’re acting here unless, of course, you have some financial reason for making specious arguments about how we should ignore science and pretend everything is normal.
        Then your over reactions would make sense.

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      • Craig – lots of irony here: you insinuate that I’m too young to understand the historical context only to suggest that historical context cannot be found in one’s own personal experiences. Funny that I was in 3rd grade in 1987, yet you are using 1987 to define what normal Sockeye returns to Cook Inlet should look like. We can easily find data going back to 1972. If we average Cook Inlet Sockeye returns from 1972-2017, they are around 5.5 million. That’s slightly less than our most recent 10 year average. Seems pretty normal. I bet if we went waaaay back to the 60’s when you were in 3rd grade, our average return would be even lower. Again, imagine how far above average we might be if the Susitna drainage still produced decent numbers of Sockeye. Not accusing you of fake news because this is a blog page, not a news site.

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      • Actually Todd, maybe your problem is with your reading comprehension.
        I didn’t insinuate you were too young to understand. I said specifically that for most people their sense of history is limited to their lifetimes. And I suggested you might be one of those people because you were acting like one.
        I also never said I was judging anything by 1987. I said it was a great year. But you can’t judge anything by one great year, which is why I have compared decades.
        Any comparison to 1972-2017 unfortunately fails because it ignores the PDO, which caused some horrendous years in the ’60s in the ’70s. A cold ocean isn’t very productive.
        Comparing now to then is like comparing the giant Mat-Su cabbages of the warm, sunny years to the Mat-Su cabbages of the years when the temperature never got above 40 and the sun never shone.
        The Inlet catch in ’74 was under 500,000 sockeye, the smallest on record.
        And the 1960-80, 20-year average was less than 1.2M despite the fact the PDO was shifting to warm until late in the ’70s. The highest catch in those 20 years was 2.6M in ’78. And then the PDO went warm and stayed warm, and the Inlet hit the jackpot for a while.
        Ocean conditions are still positive, but there ain’t no jackpots anymore.
        Some pretty good scientists (though I’m sure they can’t be as smart as you are) think it might be because of food competition in the ocean. Some even think the high productivity of the PDO is masking what would be a worse situation for the Inlet in less favorable conditions.
        Bristol Bay has responded nicely to a positive PDO. The Inlet hasn’t. Why is that?
        You appear not the least bit curious.
        Which leaves me with the question you still haven’t answered: What’s your financial interest in Prince William Sound?
        I’d like to know, because I can’t believe you’re this scientifically unaware, and I can’t believe you’d happily give up some of your Inlet setnet catch to feed someone else’s hatchery fish.

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      • “the regional associations between salmon production and temperatures were generally
        the same: warm periods coincided with high salmon production in Alaska, and cool
        periods off the west coast of the continental U.S. and British Columbia coincided with
        high salmon production in those regions.” https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/journals/pnw_2009_mantua001.pdf
        there’s a concensus on this one. the old school thinking use to be that a warm PDO helped all Alaska stocks and a cold one all PNW stocks, but it appears the situation isn’t that simple.
        and it might be compounded by pink production, especially in those really big pink years.

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      • OK Craig, I see that “theory” as being tied to a climate change thing that is possibly more inclined to involve better conditions for young salmon in fresh water, even.
        What is the concern of biologists now, as I understand it, is the warming of the Gulf of AK and Bering Sea is that its not able to produce the rich food required of salmon.
        Whatever else one wants to say, I’m thinking your “warm ocean=more salmon” does not hold “warm” water, if it ever did. Pun intended.

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      • Bill: there’s obviously a point at which a warm ocean stops improving salmon production and starts favoring warmwater fish. but we’re a long ways from that.
        and, of course, in my Alaskacentric world i might have painted a simpler picture than should be painted because salmon are not an Alaskacentric species, and what’s good for our salmon is not always good for the salmon to the south of us, ie:
        “Warm coastal zone ocean temperatures just before and during the early marine period tend to coincide with increased production and abundance of northern pink, chum, and sockeye salmon population groups, but reduced production and abundance of more southern population groups (e.g., ref. 5 and references therein).” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4568253/
        that paper, by the way, is a pretty interesting read both from a climate and a hatchery standpoint. and it does note the performance of the natural (ie. no hatchery) Bristol Bay salmon fishery since the 1800s. that fishery has consistently tracked upward in conjunction with a warmer ocean, but it is also a very northern fishery.
        it’s a big, complicated system into which Alaska, Japan and Russia have dumped a lot of salmon as if this human intervention couldn’t possibly have a negative impact. we once had a similar problem with DDT, which had a whole bunch of negatives connected to it that no one much noticed at the time the chemical was first employed to make the world a better place.
        and there is no doubt DDT saved millions of lives, probably tens of millions if not hundreds of millions. https://alaskapublic.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/envh10.sci.life.eco.silentspring/rachel-carsons-silent-spring/#.WteJJ4jwaM8

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      • “there’s obviously a point at which a warm ocean stops improving salmon production and starts favoring warmwater fish”
        You’ve made an assumption here without showing it’s the case. And I don’t buy it for a second. If you are going to push such please show some back-up. That earlier study didn’t show anything of the sort IMO.

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      • Interesting that you put so much weight in the PDO now Craig, since your immediate response to my first comment on this article was “the PDO exists. it is in this case deeply debatable”. I believe it is more appropriate to average long term historic data to define “normal” than it is to select the period of highest productivity on record. Feel free to disagree. I don’t doubt that Bristol may have responded better to favorable ocean conditions than Cook Inlet, but you are remiss to immediately attribute that to PWS hatchery production without paying any attention to other possible factors, including local factors like escapement/brood year productivity, habitat, invasive species, local/regional harvest, etc. You also failed to mention that PWS itself has had record wild Sockeye returns recently. Amazing that you leave no room for a person to take issue with your jumping to conclusions while still believing there is merit to the theory of competition for resources between hatchery and wild stocks. I have absolutely ZERO financial interest in PWS. I do have an interest in calling folks like you out when they propagate misinformation. Perhaps a more appropriate question would be to ask the same of you: you have a habit of accepting money to communicate for political interests, and one powerful political interest which you have accepted money from in the past has been quite focused on this hatchery issue, and they are actively sharing your blog posts online. Is there a financial tie between your “news” site and this “charity”? How are you paying the bills here? Should we consider your stories news if you are being paid by political interests to write them?

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      • Todd: as far as i can tell, you are the king of disinformation. either that or you really do have a serious reading comprehension problem.
        i did not attribute anything to PWS hatchery production. i said there are reasons to believe hatchery production could be implicated in Cook Inlet sockeye declines and for that reason warrants study.
        and PWS had not had record sockeye returns recently. the record returns were back in the 1990s. the Sound has had generally good returns: 3.2M in 2015 (about what what the catch was in ’97); 2.1M in 2016; 1.3M last year.
        those numbers speak for themselves, though i wouldn’t draw any conclusions from three years of data.
        and whether or not PWS hatcheries have anything at all to do with Copper River sockeye depends on the timing of smolt emigration and prey availability in the waters of the Gulf of Alaska.
        if Copper River sockeye smolt get pushed north and start feeding in that big mixing zone off the Barren Islands before or at the same time as all those PWS hatchery fry, the Copper River wild fish could be simply compounding the problems for out-migrant Inlet sockeye.
        this why we study ecology. to find how very complicated systems of predator and prey work.
        now to another matter:
        in the quest for knowledge, i welcome free ranging discussion on these pages, but if you are going to continue to comment, please stick to facts and opinions based in facts. they’re absent from your latest comment, and it’s getting old as your suggestions that because i report things you don’t like to hear there must be some nefarious, “powerful political interest” behind it all.
        sorry. there’s not.
        i accept money from anyone. if you think i can be bought, i would encourage you to make a huge contribution. it will get you what it gets any other powerful political interest.
        i could guess at the “powerful political interest” you reference, but i won’t because that would be an assumption, and we all know the little ass out of U and me saying.
        i do sort of wish “powerful political interests” were backing me because it would be easier to pay the bills. i survive on a trickle of money from ads on the website and donations from people who i really can’t thank enough.
        they appear to appreciate journalism and are willing to make contributions to support it.
        so to them, i would say, thank you, thank you, and thank you yet again.
        i am, however, thinking that maybe i should institute a new business model that would make people like you pay to comment, given the time i waste trying to correct the distortions in your comments.
        as to who shares craigmedred.news. i encourage everyone to share craigmedred.news. i hope you share craigmedred.news. i believe democracy is improved by discussions based on factual information.
        and the factual information here is simple:
        there are indications of competition between hatchery and wild fish in the North Pacific Ocean. there are indications wild fish might be the losers in that competition. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/mcf2.10023
        we are almost wholly dependent on wild fish in Cook Inlet.
        and as i’ve said, repeatedly, it might be OK if hatchery fish are costing us wild fish. it might be economically wise for the state of Alaska to boost PWS hatchery production at the cost of the Inlet. the freewheeling capitalists of Japan basically did away with all of their wild fish in favor of hatchery fish for economic reasons; they could produce a whole lot more salmon by going all in on ranching.
        i wouldn’t favor eliminating wild stocks in favor of hatchery fish in Alaska, but i’m willing to concede some loss of wild fish if the economics justify it. i don’t know, however, think we should allow that to happen by default. we should understand what we’re doing with our nature tampering when we do it.
        and that’s what hatcheries are: nature tampering.
        they spill a bunch of organic matter into the ocean. if they were any other business dumping this much organic matter into the ocean (ignore the fact that their organic matter is eating other organisms and thus having even bigger ecological implications), they would be required to file an EIS.
        but because we think hatcheries are inherently good, we’ve never even thought about the broad ecological implications. clearly, you think hatcheries are all good. you could be right.
        i’m not so sure, because the evidence to the contrary is raising serious questions. and, as noted above, i don’t like to assume.
        but don’t take my word for any of this. do some research. read the studies. the North Pacific is stuffed with salmon. the question is whether it’s stuffed with the salmon of most value to Alaska.
        that’s a question i can’t answer either.
        maybe it’s OK to trade sockeyes for pinks. maybe the best model for Alaska’s future will be to have the lion’s share of our fish harvested at low cost in so-called cost recovery zones near the hatcheries and processed into skinless, boneless, pouch packs to compete with tuna with only a limited number of sockeye going into fresh and frozen markets.
        but we shouldn’t allow a decision like that to be made by default. it should be based on a serious analysis of costs and benefits both biologically and economically.
        and if your opposition to sound science is based solely on the fact some organization you don’t like “has been focused on the hatchery issue,” i just feel sorry for you dude, because sometimes the people we disagree with are right or at least worth listening to.
        as Gen. George S. Patton once observed: “if everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking.”

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      • Don’t feel bad for me, Craig. Life is good for Todd. Before we started down this rabbit hole, I simply tried to point out that the issue of hatchery competition is being overblown. That you used declining Cook Inlet commercial Sockeye harvest to validate the theory is a perfect example: it’s not appropriate and is in fact misleading for reasons already explained. If you take offense to my pointing out that you accept money to communicate for political interests, perhaps you should not have started that discussion by questioning my financial interests. Again, just because I disagree with your methods does not mean that I disagree with the theory of competition for resources between hatchery and wild stocks, or that I support how many pinks our hatcheries are pumping out. I’d prefer they pumped out more Sockeye, personally, but that is much more challenging, and very difficult for hatcheries to make money on. Kasilof Sockeye used to be enhanced. I believe that enhancement declined over the years, and we just saw the last of the enhanced runs several years ago. Suffice to say that Cook Inlet runs are very complex and any attempt to explain a variation in harvest by one user group – or varied returns in general – in several hundred words or less is probably jumping to conclusions.

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      • Todd: Thank you Mr. Science, but sadly we don’t know if hatchery competition is overblown or underblown.
        you really need to work on that reading comprehension. i didn’t use anything to validate any theory. i reported some numbers that would lead any reasonable and rational person to believe the theory should be investigated.
        did you flunk freshman science?
        likewise, i don’t accept money to communicate anything for anyone. and, to repeat, if you believe that bullshit send me a big check along with a note as to your wishes. it will get you what it would get anyone else.
        i checked the P.O. Box today by the way, no check. i really need to start charging you for comments. i spend way to much time correcting them.
        as in this case again:
        Kasilof enhancement didn’t decline over the years. it was phased out after The Wilderness Society sued to stop nature tampering in a Kenai Wildlife Refuge Wilderness Area and won. https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-9th-circuit/1361922.html
        the returns of stocked fish ended about a decade ago, not “several years.”
        http://www.ciaanet.org/Projects/TUSTUMENA%20RPT%202013.pdf
        the Kasilof has continued to plug along fine without enhancement, though one has to wonder if it – like the Kenai – has been degraded by density dependence issues related to ocean intermixing of various salmon species.
        you really need to spend more time reading the literature and less time commenting here. density dependent interactions between salmon are well documented.
        and you realize, i presume, that your observation that “Cook Inlet runs are very complex” largely undermines your assumption that “hatchery competition is being overblown,” because what makes the Inlet complex is that we know very little about density dependent interactions in the Inlet or when Inlet join the Gulf scrum.

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      • Craig – you are correct about Kasilof stocking. It really was a sidebar comment – I thought it ended more recently and should have looked it up before mentioning it. The last of the stocked returns were in 2008. My bad. Glad to hear you acknowledge that the concept of density dependence has merit. Same concept applies inriver. As for your not taking money to communicate for people, you’ve stated in comments here that you’ve taken money from Penney for communication type work. Also, this: :https://www.adn.com/politics/2016/07/28/longtime-journalist-craig-medred-hired-by-alaska-senate-president/. I’d imagine the trend continues, and it’s pretty easy to see your close relationship with KRSA and the Fight4Fish folks. I’d bet they help keep food on your table. I did not flunk any classes, I am not trying to misinform, and if you’d like to censor me that is your choice. I don’t intend to support you financially because I don’t believe that you report things fairly. Hope you have a good summer and try to find time to enjoy our pretty awesome salmon returns.

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      • Todd: you’ve proven such a fountain of misinformation that it’s not even worth responding to your comments anymore. now that you’ve caught up on the decade-dead Kasilof stocking program, maybe you could study up on density dependent interactions in Pacific salmon. there are orders of magnitude more salmon in the river that is the Alaska Coastal Current than in the Kenai.
        i’ve been aware of ecological density issues since high school despite your usual misinformative innuendo. snowshoe hares are probably the most density dependent example in ecology and likely the most studied. and i like science.
        i used to credit you with a little interest in science, too, at least as it pertains to the Kenai River. but you’ve finally convinced me that your only connection to the Kenai is that you’re a troll living under one of the bridges.
        anyone who isn’t curious about possible declines in Cook Inlet sockeye, Chinook and coho runs because of interactions with hatchery fish in the northeast Gulf of Alaska hasn’t been reading the research, doesn’t give a shit about Inlet salmon runs, or is so full of anger against dipnetters and anglers he can’t think straight.
        just make me feel sorry for you Todd. all of it just makes me feel sorry for you.

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    • sadly, Thomas, that story isn’t a rebuttal but a parallel theory as to why Chinook may be decreasing in size as well as in number. it is certainly possible increased predation by killer whales is cropping off some of the bigger kings, although i seem to remember you previously blaming the size decline on selective harvest by Kenai River anglers after quote-unquote “trophy kings.”
      Schindler’s theory is that killer whales are the real trophy hunters. that could be. fortunately – as i’m sure as well-studied man of great intellect such as yourself knows -,the trawl predation is focused on immature kings – 5-to-10 pound fish if i remember the old state study right.
      as a commercial drfitnetter in Cook Inlet, and a man obviously smarter than a poor scribe, i would have thought you might read that story with an open mind and ponder the wave of hungry, young pink salmon sweeping north on the Alaska Coastal Current every spring into that great mixing zone at the mouth of Cook Inlet.
      there are interesting scientific questions as to food competition there and the density dependent interactions of the various species of salmon.
      if you haven’t noticed, Cook Inlet sockeye, Chinook and coho numbers have been in general decline in for years now, and the commercial sockeye fishery that averaged a harvest of 5.3M fish from 1985 to 1995 has averaged under 2.9 million for the past 10 years.
      you might not have been around long enough to remember this, but there used to be a state fisheries biologist named Ken Tarbox working down in Soldotna who in 1996 wrote this: “hatcheries [in Prince William Sound are] a major contributor to
      wild stock loss.”
      the statement was, of course, quickly refuted: http://www.sf.adfg.state.ak.us/fedaidpdfs/afrb.04.1.075-078.pdf
      nothing to see here. move along. all is fine.

      P.S. i do have an agenda. it is the inherent agenda of journalism – providing people information on how their government runs things.

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      • they aren’t. all of those salmon are fin clipped. most of fishermen in Alaska know what that means and report them to ADF&G. i can’t remember the last time i saw a fin-clipped Alaska salmon. it’s been a long time.
        not to mention that timing migration is such that they’d be unlikely to show up here. that catch of Southeast is of kings heading toward spawning grounds in B.C. and the Columbia River. those fish are part Cook Inlet and the Copper River by the time they get caught.
        AD&G has kept a pretty good watch on this: https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/Static/home/pdfs/basis_for_chinook_nonretention.pdf
        when this was closely examined on the Copper River in particular back in 2011 the number of strays from all B.C. and PNW sources was put at 4 percent. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/FedAidPDFs/FMS11-08.pdf

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      • Entirely possible Steve. However those Columbia River (and other) hatcheries are not new. I’ve fished for about 10 years in late June around Deer Hbr. and Surge Bay and we catch few hatchery kings there. Did fish near Lituya Bay one year for a week when limit was one king/day and we caught 10 kings (all hatchery fish). None was over 30 inches, either so perhaps those fish tend to be smaller. We get one fish/day again this year due to reduced quota (Trollers get 95k).

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      • I thought the tiny Kings on the Copper River last summer were weird looking.
        If a surge of hatchery kings (from down south) got caught up in the run of hatchery reds going up the Copper River that would explain why so many smaller kings were coming up stream and very few mature fish (Chinook) were ever netted.
        I guess at this point all we can do is make more hatchery fish…
        The other variables are not going away, so if S.C. wants more fish for tourism, we would need to “enhance” the natural runs remaining.
        It is a mess as hatchery stock reproduce with natural runs…mixed up genes.

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      • Steve, I do not know of what you speak on Copper River kings. First I’ve heard of it. Did you observe some at a processor In Cordova or see some from dipnetters @ Chitna? In general the average Copper River kings were about 20 lbs when I fished but I suspect some inside fishermen got larger averages when inside was open. I suspect you may have observed a few jacks (all males).
        What is weird looking?
        Copper River fish have their own look (darker than most IMO). Hatchery fish have adipose fins clipped and they would have stuck out like sore thumbs that the processors would have picked up on IMO.
        And the enhanced run on Copper (Gulkanna egg box fish) don’t return until Summer, well after all kings are upriver so no chance of hatchery kings joining with those Gulkanna fish (they aren’t hatchery fish, either). Some of them were remote released some years ago into a lake that i’ve forgotten the name of, but residents there complained of bears getting into their cabins and demanded that stop.

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      • Just my opinion, here Steve, but I suspect that some percentage of those gulkana fish have adipose fins clipped. There are no king salmon and only reds. As I mentioned earlier, those fish tend to return as part of the Copper’s Summer run and my own experience with that run is limited, as I usually fished in the Sound after the early Copper fishery. That link of yours seems to show that the remote releases to several lakes has stopped.
        Sort of a rule of thumb thinking was that Gulkana fish produced around 100k fish to the commercial fishery with occasional years being higher. Those fish were marked somehow as the fishery regularly knew the percentage of that catch by some means.
        As far as I know this is the only hatchery of its kind so I’m unsure of what you mean by how much enriching goes on Statewide. AK has one PWS red hatchery (Main Bay) and one in Southeast (Snettisham) that I know of, besides Gulkana.

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      • Bill,
        Read the Gulkana Hatchery link closer…
        The lake stocking has stopped, but the river stocking is amped up.
        24,900,000 sockeye fry added in 2015.
        They are “permitted” to 36 million.
        WTF.
        All run by a Brit from UK.
        Stinks of Colonialism in my opinion.
        Where is discussion on this practice?
        Who determined 36 million fry a year was a good figure?
        How does this effect natural runs?
        Are there any natural sockeye left on the Copper?
        I was told these fish do not have clipped fins and biologists need to dissect fish to determine origin.
        I was also told from Chitna resident that the state does not even check (as much as they should) what percentage of fish are from “egg box” hatchery vs. Natural stock….
        Lots of inconsistent data with our salmon fisheries IMO.

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      • I’ll not attempt to sway your ill conceived agenda, here Steve. PSWAC runs Gulkana and it has consistently produced an enhanced sockeye run that all users have benefitted from with very little expense.
        For whatever reason you seem hell-bent on looking for something to bitch about. Well have at it but I suspect you will find yourself all alone, here.
        Anyway, it only makes sense that State would not check which stocks were from egg boxes is that they are the same stocks (I suspect that it would be impossible to tell the difference). It’s not like those eggs from egg boxes are any different from the Gulkana natural run (they are mixed). Same genetics, so who cares if they came from egg boxes or gravel?? Only you!

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  5. So I’m withholding on this study until I have a chance to read it, I do think that you to differentiate between the different trawl fleets. The BSAI pollock does have a problem with chinook bycatch. The amendment 80 ground fish fleet has a problem with halibut and crab bycatch. Pelagic trawling and bottom trawling both have different ecological costs and it does not do any good to lump them together. My brother once told me “I’d rather have a sister in a whore house than a brother on a dragger” and while I’m not that extreme I do have serious reservations about both fleets bycatch allocations. I think that you do your readers a disservice by not clarifying that( sort of like Politico and that you commented on today).

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    • i agree trawling raises various ecosystem issues. but this wasn’t a story about trawling per se.it was a story about salmon. the trawl issue as it relates to Chinook might well be the least of the problems those fish face. bottom trawling, on the other hand, present big problems but those aren’t Chinook related. and the NPFMC is to be commended for putting a lot of restrictions on bottom trawls off Alaska.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. No wonder thousands upon thousands of seabirds are dying each year. Not just in Alaska, but up and down the pacific coastline. Criminal.

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  7. South Central Alaska is the location for the “perfect storm” in the collapse of our natural salmon runs in AK.
    The wolf has been eliminated from the fragile ecosystem.
    Hatchery fish are straying up streams of once natural runs.
    Habitat along spawning streams has been sold as private property, trees have been clear cut…land developed with retraining walls and ornamental trees with planted grass lawns.
    Moose overbrowsing on the remaining alder and willow stock have made for open channels and easy prey on young salmon fry for birds and fish predators.
    Pike in the streams are further decimating young fish and competing for limited habitat.
    Sport fishing closures by F&G only further create an inbalance since no anglers will fish the streams to remove the large pike causing part of the disturbance.
    Hatcheries will produce millions more of foreign stock only adding to the problem and competing with natural salmon for food sources in the Ocean.
    And lastly, Are hatchery fish reproducing with natural species?
    Is this artificial reproduction further weakening the genes of young offspring?
    Brave New World.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting article Craig.
    I’ll just take exception to this: “The trawl by-catch represents less than 10 percent of the total Alaska catch of Chinook, most of which is taken in the commercial and subsistence fisheries.”
    This statement holds in an historical sense but is not the case for at least the last 10 years (where the catch has only gone above 400k once).
    Here is a look at historical Alaska catch of chinook salmon. http://legacy.fishsource.org/system/resource/image_path/16560/large/AK_Chinook.png

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    • Bill,
      Does your graph include annual “bycatch” of Chinook?
      Of which, I believe the numbers could be quiet high.
      Whatever happened to the “observer” program on fishing vessels?

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      • Plain answer Steve, is I don’t know. I suspect they don’t include trawl bycatch and only include commercial salmon fishery catch (and value).
        The article mentions 61k immature king salmon as caught as trawl bycatch and I believe these numbers are from “observer” program. Hard to say what “immature” is here, other than perhaps there are other “mature” chinooks taken in that fishery.

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      • Bill: you can find sizes in the study the state did back when by-catch was even bigger. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/home/library/PDFs/afrb/withv9n1.pdf
        note too the conclusion at the end of that study:
        “Although we estimated that bycatch reduced western
        Alaska chinook salmon runs by 2.7%, actual impacts
        are likely much lower for two reasons. First, escapements
        are unknown for many populations of chinook
        salmon from western Alaska, so total run size has been
        underestimated. Second, the stock composition study
        of chinook salmon bycatch (Myers and Rogers 1988)
        was based on data collected over 20 years ago during
        foreign and joint venture fisheries, at a time when western
        Alaska chinook salmon were much more abundant.
        Application of those stock composition estimates
        would likely overestimate the contribution of western
        Alaska chinook salmon.”
        the reduction for non-Western Alaska salmon – Kodiak, Cook Inlet, Copper River, Southeast – would be even lower because they are less exposed to bycatch. bycatch makes for a nice bogeyman, and there is no doubt it could be further reduced if the NPFMC would follow the Canadian model (which for some reason it refuses to do).
        but the evidence for by-catch as the cause of our king salmon declines is thin. the new and growing evidence as to interspecies competition for food looks far more promising, especially when coupled to the possibility of increased predation by killer whales and salmon sharks, the numbers of which have grown significantly in parts of Alaska.
        the issue remains an interesting puzzle.

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      • Sorry Craig,
        I missed the 61,000 annual figure, since you did not say “bycatch”.
        It is bullshit that 61,000 Chinooks are caught every year by comm fish trawlers…then given to a non profit in Seattle…great.

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      • Craig,
        By catch is much more than a “bogeyman” in Alaska.
        61,000 Kings is a lot to loose annually each year.
        That is 1.2 million “natural” Chinook stock over 20 years!
        Many streams are only a few hundred or a thousand under escapement goals each season.
        61,000 additional fish each year could help balance out the curve. (Remember escapement sonar only counts number of fish returning up river…not whether or not fish are “mature” or “immature”)
        Also, “immature fish” are still good eating fish as well.
        Many streams in S.C. have many immature Kings already found swimming upstream during “runs”.
        The Copper River also had quite a few “jack” Kings running up the river in June and July last year?
        Why are all these young Kings returning to rivers throughout Alaska?
        Are the confused or are they a hybrid product of some hatchery stock experiment that we are not being told of just yet?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Large numbers of jack king salmon in any year suggests a large return of mature ones the next. I don’t know of any trend of young kings returning to our rivers, other than what has always occurred in the year prior to a large return.

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    • the problem with that graph is that it leaves out two historically big commercial fisheries – the Yukon and the Kuskokwim. both have been primarily converted to subsistence fisheries. the Kusko alone adds 50,000 to 100,000 to that chart. it’s why i linked both the commercial harvest and the subsistence/personal-use harvest.

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