Arctic fish boom

salmon frenzy

Apparently fueled by a warming Bering Sea, the 2019 salmon boom in Northwest Alaska stretched far to the east along the Arctic Coast.

Canadian officials are reporting they saw unprecedented numbers of salmon in their waters east of the Alaska border.

“The salmon frenzy that started in the western Arctic earlier this year has gone on to reach a historic high,” the CBC reported Monday. “Karen Dunmall, a biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said they got more salmon from harvesters in the western Arctic and Nunavut this year than in the last 20 years combined.”

As in Alaska, most of the salmon were chums, but Dunmall told the CBC that “starting in 2004, pink salmon started showing up in the even amount of years … (and) more recently in 2016 and ’17, sockeye appeared.”

A big-run phenomenon swept north this year from the Aleutian Islands along both coasts of the Bering Sea and then east into Canada and likely west into Russia, although there is little reporting about what goes on along Russian’s Arctic coast.

What is known, according to the McDowell Group, a consultancy, is that Russia harvested about a billion pounds of Pacific salmon this year – 60 percent of the fish being pinks – in a year when pink runs are traditionally weak along the Kamchatka Peninsula. 

That’s about 200 million pounds more than the averaged annual harvest for Alaska in 2018-19, McDowell reported. The 2018 Alaska harvest of 114 million, though good by historical standards, was weak by modern standards.

The good now days

Returns rebounded this year and the harvest pushed over 200 million for the fourth time this decade, but only the eighth time in the 134-year history of Alaska commercial salmon fishing.

Bristol Bay, the easternmost arm of the Bering, was the focal point. The harvest of 44.5
million salmon of all species was the second largest in Bay history and resulted in a record payment to fishermen of nearly $307 million, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 

More than 90 percent of the catch by weight was high-value sockeye trading at $1.35 per pound, according to the state agency.

The Bay’s sockeye, according to the University of Washington scientists, are so far proving to be one the big winners in a warming North Pacific Ocean. The 2019 harvest of 43 million of the fish was 76 percent above the 20-year average catch, according to Fish and Game.

help blurb

“We know climate warming is making rivers more productive for the food juvenile salmon eat, meaning their growth rate is speeding up. That puts the salmon on a growth trajectory that moves them to the ocean faster,” University of Washington (UW) scientist Daniel Schindler told the UW News after he and colleagues published on sockeye growth rates in Nature Ecology & Evolution last year.

Plankton production in the region’s lakes has gone up as they have warmed. Young sockeye feed on that plankton. As a result, they grow faster and bigger and go to sea sooner, which tends to take some of the bite out of the historically high death rate for salmon.

About 90 percent of the young salmon that survive a year or two in freshwater before going to sea die in the ocean. With hundreds of millions of young fish going to sea, however, even a percent change in how many come back can make a big difference in the size of returns.

Scientists studying California salmon earlier this month reported finding big shifts in growth rates in young salmon as waters warm thus helping the fish grow faster and bigger. That increases their survival chances at sea.

Those researchers concluded “abundant food sources may help buffer the effects of increasing water temperature,” according to a report from the University of California Davis.

“The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Dec. 10, shows that the availability of food in a natural system – not just stream temperature and flows – is an essential component of fish habitat,” the university reported.

The study is in keeping with the metabolic theory, which basically holds that the biological carrying capacities of warm waters are higher than those of cold waters, but the California scientists said they were still surprised by what their examination of coho salmon revealed.

The optimum water temperature for young coho salmon has long been thought to be in the mid-50s, but UC Davis reported “the researchers were surprised to find that coho salmon growth rates peaked at average water temperatures of 61.8 F and an ‘unheard of’ maximum weekly temperature of 70 degrees.”

Because salmon are cold blooded, their body temperatures rise or fall with water temperatures. When the water warms up, they warm up, and their metabolism increases accordingly.

The higher metabolism increases their need for food. If food is lacking they are in trouble, but if food is available, the warmer water just helps them grow faster.

The California scientists reported young fish reared in water with a mean temperature of 61.8 degrees and a peak weekly temperature of 70 degrees gained 9 grams on fish reared at 55.4 degrees with a peak weekly temperature of  60.8 degrees.

The results are similar to those being seen in the Bay as water temperatures rise in area lakes, and scientists say it is likely the salmon boom along the Arctic coast is similarly tied to warming.

“So the salmon are responding to environmental variability and change,” Dunmall told the CBC. “Generally, things are warming up.”

The biggest increases in global warming are being seen in the Arctic. It is warming at about twice the rate of the rest of the planet as sea ice melts away, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Sea ice reflects 80 to 90 percent of solar radiation back into space. Marine waters absorb about 90 percent of that radiation in the form of heat. 




















17 replies »

  1. There are many different winners and losers to Climate Change in Alaska…natural Salmon runs in Bristol Bay appear to be holding steady but with over 5 Billion hatchery fish added to the Pacific each year we can only wonder the origin of each Salmon we catch.
    Other species like Halibut appear down while Pacific Cod that normally are in warmer southern waters have appeared to moved north.
    What will the consequences be for BB Salmon if their habitat is flooded with Pacific Cod from the South?
    “Instead of bringing aboard halibut — worth more than $5 a pound back on shore — this string of gear yields four large but far less valuable Pacific cod, voracious bottom feeders whose numbers in recent years have exploded in these northern reaches…
    The cod have surged here from the south amid climatic changes unfolding with stunning speed.
    For two years, the Bering Sea has been largely without winter ice, a development scientists modeling the warming impacts of greenhouse-gas pollution from fossil fuels once forecast would not occur until 2050.”
    Luckily, we have investigative reporters from the outside working on the case to bring us the bigger picture of how Climate Change is effecting our state.

    • “Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod fishermen will be keeping their gear dry this winter: The federal fishery has been closed for the 2020 season.”

      The Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea are largely along the same latitude with most of the fisheries in the Bering being prosecuted in lower latitudes than those in the Gulf. Seems like those investigative reporters from outside would benefit from looking at a map, something you might consider as well.

      • Steve O,
        You may recall that we already had this “latitude” debate?
        Many other factors such as depth of ocean, loss of seasonal ice, warm tidal currents (such as the blob) and other factors are affecting the sea’s temperature…not just latitude.
        The reporter above has done his research well and it appears that no matter that the gulf is closed for cod…the bearing sea is seeing a huge shift in their location.
        “The Beauty Bay, a Seattle-based vessel that sets miles of hooks along sea-bottom lines, this summer sometimes caught more than 40,000 pounds of a cod a day — headed, gutted and frozen on board…
        The fish we are catching now are just beautiful. They are big and healthy,” said Scott Hanson, the boat’s co-owner and captain, during summer fishing that at one point took him into northern Bering Sea within 10 miles of St. Lawrence Island.
        The cod appeared to be finding plenty of food, including adult king crab, prickly shells and all.”

      • Steve,

        I wouldn’t say it’s a debate at all, latitude isn’t a function of your opinion or my opinion it is simply a designation of a parallel line that measures where upon the face of the earth a particular point is, North or South.

        Where are you suggesting these new found cod are coming from when you say they are coming from the South? The only nearby area where P-cod are disappearin is the Gulf. For some reason you seem to think that the Bering Sea and Bristol Bay are North of The Gulf of Alaska and Cook Inlet, respectively. They are not. Had you said they moved West then perhaps you would be correct, not likely but perhaps. Since that doesn’t fit your narrative so you didn’t. You are the one suggesting fish are moving North from other nearby areas.

      • Steve O…
        Pacific Cod are not just located in the waters off of Alaska.
        “There are four stocks of Pacific cod: Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands, and West Coast..
        Pacific cod are found in the coastal North Pacific Ocean, from the Bering Sea to Southern California in the east and to the Sea of Japan in the west…
        The West Coast population of Pacific cod has never been formally assessed, but is not subject to overfishing based on 2016 catch data.”
        It is very plausible that the large increase in Pacific Cod now seen in the Bering Sea is due to a migration of fish from warmer waters.

      • Steve,

        Just to be clear, you are claiming that “It is very plausible that the large increase in Pacific Cod now seen in the Bering Sea” is coming from the West Coast as in from Southern California to Washington, is that correct? P-cod migrating from an area, where according to the link you provided, they “are rarely available in large numbers to be caught in the groundfish fishery” are moving North thousands and thousands of miles to cooler water? Cooler water that is warming…

        Or are you saying they are only moving North from the Aleutians, where there has been a steady increase GHL (guideline harvest level) for the past 4 years from less than 11,000,000 pounds to just over 14,000,000 this year? It’s interesting because in the same time frame the Bering Sea fishery out of Dutch went from about 36,000,000 pound GHL down to about 28,000,000 last year and is now coming back up, to where it was about 32,000,000 this year. These are normal fluctuations that happen in ground fisheries from time to time.

        Once again, had you said the P-cod were moving West then perhaps you would be correct, not likely but perhaps. It’s certainly not at all plausible that a small number of West Coast P-cod are somehow migrating North thousands upon thousands of miles to cooler warm water. I do not doubt that fish adapt and change to their environment, all species do or they go extinct, it’s happened for millennia upon millennia. The small amount that are showing up in the Northern Bering Sea is what would be expected of any and every species adapting to a new area opening that affords survival.

        Sorry man, I know copying and pasting ‘news’ articles from outside journalists is kind of your deal but you might want to do a better job vetting their stories before you assume their positions as your own.

      • There was just a story on APRN last night that said Sand Point fishing fleet is closed to Cod harvest the first time in 30 years.
        Sand Point is at 55.3397 N…
        Saint Lawrence Island is at 63.3261 N.
        So it appears there is evidence that some Cod fisheries SOUTH of the northern Bering Sea are not doing so well while harvests are at record levels right off Saint Lawrence coast?

        The “outside reporters” from Seattle are heavily interested in the truth since ports in WA is final destination for much of the fishing fleet and they actually sent journalists to Saint Lawrence Island to interview natives who fished there for generations.
        “Since 2010, summer cod have increased more than 20-fold and pollock more than 50-fold in the shallow northern Bering Sea, which narrows where Asia and North America reach out toward one another.”

      • Here’s a story by an Alaskan based reporter for you…
        “The precipitous drop in Gulf of Alaska cod recently closed the federal fishery for the upcoming season.
        Its effects are also being felt by processors who rely on the fish for their winter workload.
        The Trident Seafoods plant in Sand Point closed last month for the winter, leaving a gaping hole in the city’s budget, and sowing uncertainty about the future.”
        Where did all these Cod go?
        Again, Sand Point’s Latitude is much further South than Saint Lawrence Island…by about 8 degrees.

      • Steve,

        Sand Point is in the Gulf of Alaska, St. Lawrence is in the northern Bering Sea. The Gulf is closed for cod and in order for them to have moved into the Bering they would have had to moved West. The GHL for the subdistricts in the Bering are listed above. If they are seeing a 20 fold increase at St. Lawrence, what does that mean? Did they catch 1 last year and 20 this year? 2 and then 40? Did they fish in different areas? Did they fish in different ways? Can you tell me how many actual pounds were caught at St Lawrence before this supposed 20 fold increase and how many they have caught now?

        It now sounds like you have decided that the Gulf cod have migrated a minimum of 10 degrees West and 8 degrees North, or at least 650 miles and in some cases probably closer to 1000 miles. If the entire Gulf cod biomass shifted all the way past the typical Bering Sea fishery area and up to St Lawrence that would be a very impressive and sudden shift of fish biomass, the likes which have never before been seen. I would have expected that the cod fishery around Dutch to have seen a much larger increase in numbers due to this mass migration. Of course you should easily be able to provide the data to back up your claim that Gulf cod have leapfrogged Bering Sea cod by moving West by 10 degrees and North by 8 degrees to create a whole new fishery where millions upon millions of pounds of Gulf cod are now being caught in the Northern Bering at St Lawrence…or is it possible that they caught a couple more than they’ve usually caught over the past few years, like they caught 1 last year and 20 this year and an outside report wrote what they needed to sell their story???

      • I don’t doubt that some cod move between the Gulf and the Bering, I don’t doubt that some Cook Inlet salmon might stray into Bristol Bay but suggesting that wholesale migrations of millions of fish moving hundreds or thousands of miles shows a complete and total lack of understanding of how these two species of fish live. I don’t know how they live, but I can tell you that what you are suggesting is completely absurd. Ocean conditions were not favorable which led to less survivability and fewer fish. The reason there might be a few more cod in St Lawrence is that ocean conditions were more favorable for their survivability there.

    • huh, the “investigative reporters from the Outside working on the case to bring us the bigger picture of how climate change is affecting our state….”

      since you got this part right – “there are many different winners and losers to climate change in Alaska” – i dare you to find me a story written by one of those reporters cataloging the winners.

      double-dare you.

      it’s the biggest flaw in climate reporting today. we don’t really know the winners and losers because all anyone goes looking for is losers, and it’s inevitable you find what you’re looking for.

      in fact, as we’ve seen with the New York Times reporting Alaska salmon in decline, these reporters sometimes even manage to find bad things that aren’t there. why? because to admit there are “winners” exposes you to the risk of being declared a climate denier given that there are only supposed to be “losers” dammit.

      now go find me that Outside story recounting the boom in Alaska salmon since the cold Pacific years of the 1970s when we harvested a tenth to a fifth of the salmon we harvest today.

      • Thanks Craig for not mentioning the word “crisis”. Lord knows we cannot forget that word, even with good news, the term applies. Not salmon gets the picture. You watch, even when the Beiring Sea freezes, and it will, even then that will be called “Global Warming”.

        “Life on Earth is relentlessly diverse, and every year brings thousands of new examples.

        In 2016, science described around 18,000 new plant and animal species. Some resemble figures from popular culture, others a nightmare come to life. Some were found lurking underground or beneath the sea, while many had been hiding in plain sight all along.

        Each year, the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and an international panel of taxonomists compile a list of their Top 10 new species. (Read the 2016 list here.)

        Since the list’s inaugural year in 2008, more than 200,000 species have been discovered and named.

        “This would be nothing but good news were it not for the biodiversity crisis,”

      • Craig,
        I did not mean to imply that you are not doing your part in this discussion, just that I am glad outside reporters and scientists are monitoring our concerns and pressing for observations from locals in AK.
        We are not the only ones talking about winners and losers, yet there is much debate as to what constitutes a “winner” in Climate Change.
        One example is how the east coast lobster migrated from New York waters all the way to Maine and there are other recent examples of fish migrating from warmer waters in Australia.

        “Scheffers said, a lot of the species that are winning climate change are doing so as part of what he calls “mass redistribution” — animals and plants that move, on their own accord, as their own native environment also moves. Consider the lobster.
        Over the course of about 20 years, the lobster harvest in southern New England and New York all but collapsed — with the catch falling by 97 percent from 1996 to 2014.
        Meanwhile, in Maine, where the water is still a comfortable lobster temperature, the catch rose by 219 percent in roughly the same time period.”

        “The species that seem destined for success tend to fall into one of two categories:
        Things that can take a pounding and get back up like they’re trying to steal the title from Apollo Creed — and things that can reproduce really, really fast.”

      • Steve,

        Maine lobster have been in Maine since before white man landed on the shores of the Eastern seaboard. Maine lobster have been in Maine since before man set foot on North American continent. To say that “One example is how the east coast lobster migrated from New York waters all the way to Maine” is just a simplistic and ignorant understanding of how natural processes work. Lobster from New York did not just pack up camp and head out en masse over the seafloor to Maine.

        When you add in other variables like fisheries management and fisheries management upon the people doing the fishing a different picture comes into focus. When states like New York regulate fishermen out of existence, the catch rate will necessarily plummet. Meanwhile Maine lobstermen chose conservation and returned big lobsters to sea starting this practice decades ago, shortly before they started catching more and more, and more, and more lobster. About 100 years ago they started marking a “v notch” on the tail of an egg-carrying lobster before throwing it back, which had a big impact. Fishermen in Connecticut just recently established a similar program in the mid-2000s. It’s pretty crazy what a conservative fisheries approach can do for a fishery. Going from a catch of 5,000,000 pounds in the early 1900’s, to 20,000,000+ in the 1980, to rising from 28,000,000 to 50,000,000 in the 1990’s, and from 50,000,000 to almost 100,000,000 during the 2000’s, and then peaking at 132,000,000 in 2016. Just amazing, what conservative fisheries management can do.

  2. As I mentioned before, I was speaking to a Federal Environmental Scientist during a hunt not to long ago. I said something about catching salmon to eat and he said, this from one of the “experts”, “there are no more salmon, ‘Climate Change’ has killed them all, water is too warm to sustain them and the streams have all dried up”. I looked at him in disbelief with my normal pointing digit up my nose thinking, is this man actually a real scientist and is he for real? Yep, he actually was a real gov “scientist” and for real. Considering that these real “scientists” are behind the whole “Global Warming crisis” says it all for me. They are nuts. The thousands of these unstable libs making policy for you and I should be pause for concern.

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