Canada’s loss

UPDATE: This story has been revised from the original to reflect the similar declines in wild Southeast Alaska chum masked by an increase in hatchery chum production. 

As Southeast Alaska catches of chum salmon have steadily increased over the past 20 years due to hatchery farming of the sea, Canadian scientists are reporting that wild chum populations just to the south in British Columbia have been taking a beating.

A study published in the peer-reviewed Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences last summer describes “patterns of collapse” in multiple watersheds dating back decades.

“Our findings reveal major declines in the abundance of chum salmon returning to the Central Coast of British Columbia since 1960, with an average decline of more than 90 percent by 2020 across 25 populations with reliable long-term spawner escapement data over the last six decades,” they said.

Canadian chum returns appear to be almost the polar opposite of the bounty only a little further along the Alaska Current, an ocean river that pushes young salmon emerging from the rivers of the  Pacific Northwest and British Columbia north toward the Panhandle of the 49th state.

“The annual commercial harvest of chum Salmon in Southeast Alaska the past 20 years averaged 8.4 million hatchery-origin fish and 10.2 million total fish,” U.S. scientists reported in a peer-reviewed study published in 2021 in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management.

Southeast hatchery chums alone topped the average, annual harvest of 7.2 million chums statewide in the 1970s and the combined Southeast catch came close to the statewide average of 11.8 million chums per year in the 1980s when Alaska’s state-funded hatcheries were still coming online.

The Canadians are now talking about boosting their production of hatchery salmon to mimic Alaska’s success in the business of farming the sea. And it is possible that the Canadians could find that free-range farming B.C. salmon is every bit as successful and profitable for them as it is now for Alaska.

But it could also be that Canada lost millions of wild chums because they were replaced by millions of Alaska hatchery chums, and recent research indicates that hatcheries might in that case make the wild chum survival worse, not better.

As the Canadian researchers observed, there have been “in recent years, a series of marine heatwaves (that) reduced food-web productivity in the North Pacific, increased metabolic demands on ectotherms like salmon and exacerbated competition between wild- and hatchery-origin salmon for limited food resources at sea.”

What is clear at this point is that wild chums are in a state of decline while hatchery chums are doing much better as Alaska Department of Fish and Game shows.

The state agency reports the catch of wild fish is now less than a quarter of what it was back in the old Alaska Territory, and that a rebound in chum numbers that followed the start of warming of the North Pacific Ocean in the early 1980s has now ended. Wild chums were climbing out of that depression just as major hatchery production began to come online in the mid-1980s.

Their numbers grew even as hatchery production skyrocketed into the 1990s, but peaked around the start of the new millennium and then fell rapidly. They appear to have settled into a new equilibrium since about 2010 with the annual harvest fluctuating around a mean of just below 1 million compared to the hatchery-free average of 4.5 million in territorial days.

The interactions between the wild fish and hatchery fish are not clear, but Alaska’s hatcheries appear to have given Southeast chums a big, competitive edge over their wild cousins, both Alaskan and Canadian, given that they start life bigger thanks to hatchery rearing and then, at least for the Alaska fish versus the Canadian fish, enter slightly cooler waters that produce better feed for salmon than warmer waters a little ways to the south.

Young hatchery chums are now regularly raised in net pens – just like farm-raised salmon in Norway – to grow them to the ideal weight for release.

At Crayfish Inlet 40 miles south of Sitka, the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (NSRAA) has anchored 20 net pens where “all 14 million rearing (chum) fry are being grown to four grams, a strategy expected to maximize marine survival.”

The NSRAA is one of two Southeast aquaculture associations controlled by commercial fishermen. Both it and the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (SSRA) have found significant success in farming the sea thanks in part of changing environmental conditions.

A wide variety of studies point to a warming ocean benefiting northern salmon over southern salmon with some species of Alaska-origin salmon, especially pink salmon, the biggest winners. The smallest of the salmon and the one most heavily farmed in the 49th state, pinks now power record Alaska salmon harvests.

Largely thanks to pinks, the 49th state, all-species catch has climbed from an annual average of 48.3 million salmon per year in the 1970s to 122.4 million in the ’80s, 157.5 million in the ’90s, 167.4 million in the 2000s and 171.2 million in the 2010s.

The Norway-like net pens in Crayfish Inlet/NSRAA

Growing chums

Over the last 10 years, the statewide chum catch itself has more than doubled that of the 1970s to reach an average of 17.5 million per year with the bulk of the fish coming from hatcheries in Southeast and to the north in Prince William Sound. Of the 12.8 million chum caught in Alaska in 2021, a bit of an off year, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s “annual enhancement report records that 9.3 million, or about 73 percent, were hatchery fish. 

“Although most of the harvest of a species in a region may be made up of hatchery production –  pink salmon in Prince William Sound or chum salmon in Southeast Alaska, for example – this does not mean that hatchery production is intended to replace wild stock production,” that report added.

With the catch of 3.5 million wild chums in 2021 less than half the average of the decadal harvest for the pre-hatchery years of the 1970s – when scientists agree Alaska salmon production was depressed by cold waters in the North Pacific Ocean – and but 30 percent of the harvest of the 1980s – when Alaska harvests were beginning to increase everywhere as the ocean warmed – some might question that conclusion as to replacement.

In 1985, with Fish and Game’s Fisheries Rehabilitation and Enhancement Division (FRED) still running the state’s hatchery program, the agency reported to the Alaska Legislature a harvest of approximately 660,000 hatchery chums or about 6 percent of a statewide harvest of approximately 10.6 million of the fish that year.

The state was by then, however, already encouraging the construction of hatcheries by so-called “private, nonprofit” (PNP) corporations controlled by commercial fishermen, and it would by the 1990s transfer state hatcheries and hatchery operation into the hands of those same PNPs.

With private operators in charge, the production of hatchery chums kept climbing and the production of wild chums started slipping downward. There has, in the past, been debate about whether Alaska hatchery programs are augmenting or replacing the production of wild fish, but the discussion has in recent years largely been shouted down by a state commercial fishing industry that now has a huge vested interest in farming the sea with hatcheries while denying Alaska is in the fish-farming business; they prefer to call their farming “ranching.”

The situation was different a dozen years ago when researchers Ray Hillborn from the University of Washington and Doug Eggers, then with Alaska Fish and Game, published a peer-reviewed paper in Transactions of the American Fisheries Societies concluding that the “evidence suggests that the hatchery program in Prince William Sound replaced rather than augmented wild production.”

They concluded the big rise in statewide production of salmon came as the North Pacific began to warm in the 1980s and wrote that “hatchery production did not become the dominant factor in Prince William Sound until the mid-1980s, long after the wild population had expanded.”

Since that paper was written, hatchery production in the Sound has only gone up, returning hatchery pinks have strayed into almost every stream and river in the 2,500-square-mile area, and the interactions of hatchery and wild stocks have become almost impossible to untangle.

Hatchery interests now rave about the swarms of “humpies,” the common Alaska name for pink salmon, they generate every year. They hit the jackpot a decade ago when 219 million pinks drove a record state harvest of a never before imagined 272 million fish.

State fisheries officials credited the hatcheries with producing almost 39 percent of that catch in a report that said “an estimated 97 million fish, or 36 percent of the commercial common property harvest, were produced by the Alaska salmon hatcheries. (And) approximately 9 million salmon were harvested for hatchery cost recovery” for a total hatchery catch of 106 million.

This was a 13-found increase from 1985 when FRED reported a hatchery harvest of 8 million salmon of all species, but told the Legislature that it was finding increasing success in farming the sea.

Only 10 years ago, fishermen and ADF&G biologists set production goals of 25 million salmon to be produced by enhancement and rehabilitation projects in both public and private sectors, including the participation of small private nonprofit operators, referred to as ‘Mom and Pop hatcheries,” a Fish and Game report said.

“In 1975 the enhancement goal of 25 million salmon for harvest seemed ambitious, especially when the salmon harvests for the entire state had fallen below that number in 1973 and 1974. (But) a large investment in hatchery technology and a commitment to rehabilitate and enhance our fishery has led us to realize that we can attain these goals.”

Seemingly huge success

Three decades later,  hatchery businesses boast that they are responsible for producing an annual average of 538 million pounds of salmon worth $322.8 million dollars. That is nearly half of what Fish and Game reports as the state’s “long-term average” harvest of 762 million pounds, but most of the hatchery production is in low-value pinks.

Last year saw an unprecedented, record run of wild sockeye salmon to hatchery-free Bristol Bay in what was an off-year everywhere for pink salmon, but Fish and reported the pink catch still accounted for 43 percent of the statewide salmon harvest but only 14 percent of the value. Pink harvests yo-yo wildly in the North Pacific with Alaska harvests of pinks in even-numbered years such as 2022 about half those in odd-numbered years. 

Some scientists have theorized the annual up-down nature of pinks is tied to production so high in odd-numbered years that the fish essentially graze the ocean pastures down near to dirt making it harder for the fish of the even-numbered years to find enough food to survive.

High pink abundance in odd-numbered years has also been linked to a decline in the production of Gulf of Alaska sockeye and suggested as a possibility for the huge fall in the production of Chinook salmon from the Columbia River north to Kodiak Island.

“From 2005 to 2015, the approximately 82 million adult pink salmon produced annually from hatcheries were estimated to have reduced the productivity of southern sockeye salmon by approximately 15 percent on average,” Brendan Connors of the Institute of Ocean Sciences with Fisheries and Oceans Canada in British Columbia and colleagues reported in a peer-reviewed paper published in the peer-reviewed  Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science in 2020.

“In contrast, for sockeye at the northwestern end of their range, the same level of hatchery production was predicted to have reduced the positive effects of a warming ocean by approximately 50 percent, from an approximately 10 percent to an approximately 5 percent increase in productivity, on average. These findings reveal spatially dependent effects of climate and competition on sockeye productivity and highlight the need for international discussions about large-scale hatchery production.”

Despite such warnings, the Canadian government appears willing to push ahead with plans to construct more hatcheries to “help stabilize stocks while creating economic harvesting opportunities,” according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “Salmon hatcheries can support both conservation and harvesting objectives, and play an important role in rebuilding vulnerable populations of Pacific salmon stocks.”

The Canadian plan ironically comes at a time when hatcheries in the Lower 48 are being accused of doing little to rebuild depressed wild salmon populations and the Japanese, who pioneered industrial-level farming of the sea after World War II are seeing decades of hatchery success starting to fade away.

Lords of the seas

After the end of World War II, Japan largely abandoned the idea of managing wild salmon fisheries in favor of replacing them with hatchery operations.  From then into the 1970s, Japanese salmon harvests grew slowly before exploding into the ’80s and ’90s as the ocean warmed and hatchery techniques were perfected.

All of this success ended near the start of the new millennium. Harvests started to fall then and have continued to fall since. The Japanese harvest is now down to near when it was in 1980 when the country’s hatchery production was starting to mushroom.

In a lengthy “special issue article” published in the Fisheries Oceanography in January, Masahide Kaeriyama from the Arctic Research Center at Hokkaido University blames a warming North Pacific Ocean and competition from Russian salmon but concedes the picture is complicated.

Marine heat waves (MHW) in the 2010s (remember The Blob) appear to have been detrimental to Japanese salmon, he writes, but “in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean, including the entire Sea of Japan and part of the Sea of Okhotsk intense MHW occurred in July and August 2021. However, there was no clear impact on salmon.

“Conversely, some researchers reported that cold coastal sea surface temperatures in May 2013 and May 2014 resulted in lower juvenile growth rates during coastal residency and poor adult returns for Japanese chum salmon.”

Still, as Kaeriyama notes, there is an over-arching, long-term trend underway that cannot be overlooked.

North Pacific-wide harvests of pink, chum and sockeye salmon – which together comprise 96 percent of the annual, “wild caught” salmon catch – “have shown a decreasing trend in Japan since the mid-2000s and in British Columbia, Canada, since the 1990s,” he writes. “In contrast, their catches have increased in Russia since the mid-2000s and have been highly stable in Alaska since the 1990s; that is Pacific salmon productivity has reduced in southern areas but increased in northern areas during this century.”

With or without hatcheries, it would appear, Alaska would have been the biggest beneficiary of warming, but Alaska hatcheries clearly added to the bounty. Whether this has come at the expense of wild salmon runs in Alaska, Canada or the Pacific Northwest is hard to say although Kaeriyama blamed Russian salmon increases, partially fueled by hatcheries, for some of Japan’s production declines.

“Based on the Lotka-Volterra competition model,” he writes, “against Russian chum salmon, Japanese chum salmon was the winner until the 2011 brood year and became coexistent or a loser after that. Japanese chum salmon were almost a loser against Russian pink salmon after the 1995 brood and always a winner against Russian sockeye salmon.”

A still warming North Pacific Ocean he added, appears as if it will continue to favor Russian and Alaska salmon, and he suggests that much of what scientists learned about salmon productivity in the last century might now be worthless due to changing ocean conditions.

“In the 20th century, carrying capacity and productivity of salmon were linked with climate change indices such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and the Aleutian Low Pressure Index,” he writes. “However, since the start of the 21st century, the salmon carrying capacity has been linked with the sea surface temperature (SST) in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea despite there being no correlations with climate change indices. This suggests that SST variability has a critical effect on biomass and the carrying capacity of salmon in the North Pacific Ocean.”

Given this and citing archaeological history, he goes on to theorize that Japan’s success at farming the sea might well be coming to an end.

A grim future?

Ice cores from Antarctica going back 350,000 years, Kaeriyama observed, “show that the global temperature from the mid-Initial to early Jomon periods was approximately two degrees celsius higher than at present. Accordingly, this period was called the ‘Jomon transgression’….(and) salmon remains from the Pacific side in Honshu (Island) disappeared during the Jomon transgression period.

“The global mean temperature has increased by one-degree celsius, and the current chum salmon situation is approaching that of the Jomon transgression period. While the temperature rose by two degrees celsius over 2,000 years in the Jomon transgression period, it has recently risen by one-degree celsius in just 100 years owing to global warming; that is, the current rate of warming is 10 times faster than that during the Jomon transgression period.

“Southern populations of Pacific salmon in Asia and North America may not be able to adapt to the future environmental conditions owing to global warming.”

He makes no mention of one significant compounding factor at play – the well-documented loss of genetic diversity in hatchery-spawned salmon – but does suggest that given what is happening in the northern oceans warrants a Pacific-wide discussion and global cooperation to set some goals “for the sustainable conservation management of Pacific salmon…as follows:

  1. “Conservation…and zoning between wild and hatchery-produced salmon.
  2. “Long-term research and monitoring of aquatic ecosystem and salmon….
  3. “Restoration and resilience of wild salmon and river ecosystems.”

Thanks largely to the efforts of Canadian fisheries researchers, most notably Dick Beamish, the second of those initiatives is already underway. It is the easy one. The others are hard.

As Kaeriyama notes, Russia and Alaska have been big winners as the ocean has warmed, and they would likely have to give up some of those gains to aid salmon from Japan, British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. The Russians, and likely Alaskans as well, would seem unlikely to go along with such a scheme.

Alaskans are already in court fighting efforts to further restrict the Southeast troll fleet to allow more migrating Columbia Chinook salmon to escape commercial fisheries to help feed endangered killer whales and populate spawning grounds in the Lower 48. And Alaska hatchery interests in 2018 beat back efforts to limit hatchery production to protect wild, home-state salmon

Meanwhile, the Russians are facing down huge international pressure and ignoring economic sanctions intended to force them to end their invasion of Ukraine, which they believe is in their national interest. They would seem especially unlikely candidates to roll back hatchery production or alter salmon management to help the Japanese or anyone else.

It is possible the U.S. government – which has taken the position that it has more authority over resource management in the 49th state than it does in other states – might have the ability to throttle back Alaska’s salmon production and harvests, but any such attempt to do so would be sure to ignite a political firestorm involving not only Alaskans but the Outside interests that make more off Alaska’s fisheries than Alaskans do.

Canada and Japan might well be destined to remain the Pacific’s biggest losers as Alaska and Russia roll on as the biggest winners.











10 replies »

  1. Once again, you suggest that a mathematical correlation equals causation. This is bad science.

    Great science involves conclusive fact based evidence. You have provided none.

    BC chum runs have been doling ever since the sockeye returns in Bristol Bay have exploded. Using your correlation analysis maybe the sockeyes are out grazing the BC chums.

    The problem with the BC chums is more likely related to salmon farms and sea lice adjacent to the chum salmon streams. Now salmon farms are lighting the pens so that the fish grow faster. Lights ate known attractant for salmon smolt, enticing these smolt right into the tornado of sea lice inhabiting the sea floor under these pens.

    • Doug, Doug, Doug…. First off, no one made any claim to causation. As noted, it could be hatcheries work really well and Canada just missed out by failing to follow the Alaska model long ago. Or it could be that food competition due to Alaska’s hatcheries has made things worse for the Canadian wild fish next door. Or it could be the Canadians are just screwed because they are now too far south.

      Meanwhile, you apparently missed the words “Central Coast.” There are, I believe, four salmon farms in that region. Most B.C. salmon farming is concentrated farther south around Vancouver Island. The Southern Southeast Aquaculture Association (SSRA) just to the north might have more net pens going than the Central Coast B.C. fish farms.

      Lastly, Bristol Bay could be in the mix, but the chances of significant consequences from that competition would appear remote. Chum do get out into the northwest Pacific as circle around in the currents, but they have to survive for quite a while in orderto get there. That doesn’t happen if the young fish perish near shore because of food competition.

      • Your posts always lean towards unproven hatchery impacts. It is your bias. Even in this response you mention hatchery net pens that are in the water 30 days, as though they may be equivalent to Atlantic salmon farms which are permanent fixtures.

        You also fail to recognize that chum salmon returns have been down all around the Pacific Rim. From Hokkaido to Russia to the Yukon River to Southeastern Alaska to Puget Sound. Fisheries scientists simply do not know why, and the honest ones admit that they simply do not know.

      • Doug: Totally agree we are talking about “unproven hatchery impacts.” There are strange coincidences, as in this story, between hatchery production and wild production, and in other cases, there are obvious correlations between hatchery increases and wild-stock declines.

        The cause of these correlations is also unproven. The role of science in this case is not to ignore the correlations or the coincidences, but investigate them to find out the causes. The so-called precautionary principle of fisheries management dictates a go-slow approach to environmental tampering, which is what we’re doing, until the cause of the correlation is defined.

        Alaska has largely ignored the precautionary principle.

        Now, to correct a couple of your factual errors. The in-pen time for chums these days is “normally 70 to 80 days,” according to the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association operating plan ( and, of course, for coho it’s overwinter, ie:

        “…Production goals are 1.5 million smolt from overwinter saltwater net pens.”

        So basically between the chums in the pens and the cohos in the pens, you’ve basically got year-round rearing going on here with the fish being fed and shitting just like the farmed salmon in B.C. or Norway. So whatever issue you have with uneaten food and waste from the pens there is pretty much the same here.

        Now as to chum around the Pacific Rim, there appears to be a downward trend in many areas, but there is a lot of annual variability area to area. The official NOAA assessment is this: “As of 2022, there were hundreds of stocks of chum salmon in Alaska.
        Some stocks are in decline, while others are steady or increasing.”

        The Yukon chum situation is somewhat baffling in that salmon usually take the big hit when they are young but a lot of Yukon chums, according to NOAA, appear to have disappeared “during their later marine stages.”

        NOAA “scientists suspect that during the warm years, the chum experienced a double whammy. First, there was reduced prey availability and lower quality prey in their Bering Sea feeding grounds. Then they encountered a similar situation when they entered the Gulf of Alaska as older fish. This likely contributed to the lower salmon returns in recent years to the Yukon River.”

        The GOA observations there raise all sort of questions as ocean carrying capacity and interactions between the various species of salmon, ie. food competition. Japanese chums, as the Japanese study notes, were once winning this competition versus other species. Bristol Bay sockeye, all of which are wild, are clearly a winner now. PWS pinks, most of wihch are hatchery, are also a winner, particularly in odd-numbered years.

        Japanese chums, nearly all of which are hatchery, are now taking a beating. Alaska’s aren’t. There are indications that is because our hatcheries put fatter young fish in the sea. Those “being grown to 4 grams” as the NSRAA reports. (

        Now here’s your math problem for the day: Given that in the case of chum salmon “hatchery fry may exceed the length of co-occurring wild fry by > 15 mm or quadruple the body weight (Reese etal 2009)” how much do out-migrant wild chums weigh?

      • Using your numbers, wild chum fry weigh 25% of hatchery chum fry. Now explain to me if the wild fry that only weigh 25% of the hatchery chum fry, that the returning adults of the wild fry regulary return as larger adults, as compared to the hatchery “super fry”? The wild chums start out smaller, and return larger.

        Now I had meant to write you earlier about the unproven theory being circulated that hatcheries are producing so much fry that they are “over grazing” the ocean and serious impacting whatever species of salmon that is struggling.

        The suggestion that there are too many fry in the ocean is untested because we have not calculated the number of salmon fry in the ocean, say in 1850.

        You be happy to earn that I have researched and calculated the fry missing in the ocean for two majors systems: Puget Sound and the Columbia River. Fisheries scientists have reconstructed these salmon resources as they would have been around 1850. Both systems scientists estimate produced 10-15 million adults annually. Using the lower number of 10,000,000 to reflect that there are still a handful of salmon returning today. We then estimate that each returning salmon lays 1,000 eggs upon spawning. The egg to fry survival in the wild in the literature is 5-20%. I used the lower average survival of 10%. Puget Sound is missing a billion fry today. The columbia River is missing a billion fry today also.

        Two billion salmon fry missing from the North Pacific since 1850 just from these two systems. Now, this simple calculation does not include production missing since 1850 from coastal California rivers including the Sacremento, coastal Oregon rivers, coastal Washington State rivers, or British Columbia rivers including the Fraser River.

        If a dumb commerical fisherman can figure this out, then why haven’t those folks who hold themselves up as “expert” fisheries scientists figure this out. Simply put, there are fewer salmon fry from the west coast of North America in the ocean today than there was in 1850.

        There is a pattern emerging among under-employed experts. Make up and exagerate a potential catastrophe, and then hire them to save the world.

        Now if you want to know what is happening to our Chinook salmon, I can prove where most of them disappeared to.

      • I don’t even know where to begin here.

        Juvenile size is not correlated with adult size but with survival. This is why hatcheries now grow their fish so big before release.

        The scientific consensus on salmon entering the ocean is that there are now as many or more young fish than ever being pumped out. Columbia River smolt numbers alone are estimated to be about three times their historic numbers thanks to hatcheries.

        Egg-to-fry survival is meaningless. What matters is egg-to-adult survival, which is nowhere near your five to 20 percent. The standard NOAA number puts it at about 0.07 percent based on two adults from 3,000 eggs. (

        Salmon mortality is significant from egg-to-fry, from fry-to-smolt and from smolt-to-adult. They die in big number all along the way.

        And a “dumb commercial fisherman” needs to wise up to the fact Sacramento fish aren’t in the mix in this discussion. They feed heavily in the Gulf of Farallones and along the continental shelf north to Washington, but rarely venture beyond there unlike young Columbia River fish which head north into B.C. and Alaska waters. Hatchery operators at one time tried to figure out how to program some of those Columbia fish to turn left, but never got anywhere.

        If you can indeed “prove” where all the Chinook went, there are a bunch of those experts who would love to know because the return-per-spawner – the really important number when it comes to how many salmon you get back from the escpaement – has fallen dramatically all along the Pacific coast from Oregon north as we have witnessed here in the Kenai and other rivers.

        The Situk River, which used to count a few thousand Chinook per year back when I was living in Juneau, now sees a return of about a third of that if not less. The 2015 count dropped to a troubling 174.

      • Let’s see if I can unpack your arguments.
        You assert that there is more salmon smolt in the ocean that ever before in history, but … you do not even attempt to validate this claim by estimating how many salmon were in the ocean pre-European settler times.

        Even a high school student can figure out that there are a lot of salmon missing since 1800. The Sacramento River, the California Coast, the Oregon Coast, the Columbia River, the Washington Coast, Puget Sound, and the British Columbia Coast have been decimated. In many cases the re-construction of some of these salmon runs are at 5% of pre-colonial times. There were certainly billions and billions of more fry emerging from the gravel in pre-colonial times, and far more reached the ocean before we turn rivers into sterile ditches.

        No matter how you dice and slice your arguments, there is obviously a lot of salmon missing from the ocean in the lower 48 and British Columbia.

        “Before 1850, an estimated 16 million salmon and steelhead returned to the Columbia River Basin annually to spawn. Over the last 25 years, the number of salmon and steelhead returning to the basin has averaged around 660,000 per year, although annual population levels vary widely. “,annual%20population%20levels%20vary%20widely.

        I am glad to see that you finally agree with me, when it comes to the Sacramento River and now you understand that the Pacific Ocean is not one single pasture.
        Now when it comes to a vast number of the missing Chinooks, there are probably more than one factor. Just had to put that caveat out there, but there are two huge takings of Chinook that are not being recorded accurately.

        The first is the trawl industry which has under-reported Chinook bycatch for over forty years now. The experts do not want to know what they are really taking, and have taken in past seasons. They don’t want to know because there is a lot money protecting the trawl industry.

        Look, you want to really know the truth? It is actually pretty easy, just take statements from crewmembers after they have left the industry. When the NGO Mongabay suspected the Chinese fishing fleets were under-reporting their shark harvest, that is what they did. It worked great. I have probably interviewed active crewmembers using truth serum (beer). I always ask them the same simple question.
        I ask them if all their bycatch is accurately reported. To a person, they look at the floor and mumble to avoid lying directly to my face.


        The at sea observers are under tremendous pressure. They are treated like narcs in a prison yard.

        My best guess is that over the last forty years the Chinook bycatch is probably triple the official numbers. One of the first questions you have to do when collecting data, is ask yourself honestly, how accurate is the data I am using. The experts are avoiding that question like the plague, but still want to be called scientists.

        The second large negative impact on Chinooks, is the recreational fishery. The technological evolution has made this fleet far more effective than 50 years ago, and there are a lot more of them. Last I looked between Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska they collectively issue approximately 600,000 salmon licenses. There are two problems the public does not understand well, and scientists are having difficulties estimating. The first is that Chinook are caught for three years at sea. The recreational fleet is fishing on immature Chinooks for two years and shaking them off their hooks, thereby damaging the fishes mouth and often their intestinal tracts. This is especially true when using bait whereby the Chinook swallows it into their stomach, damaging their intestinal tract and not just their lip.

        Secondly, recreational fishermen often high grade salmon. Only taking the largest fish for trophies, stripping the gene pool of the older five and six year old fish.
        Recreational fisheries and their impacts are not studied extensively, partially because of political power. You see the pattern.

        Lastly, pre-colonial tribal fisheries were actually quite intense, but they fished generally within 50 miles of spawning streams and often right in the river mouths. This changed dramatically in the last 50 years. A Chinook from the Nooksack River has to navigate through at least 13 mixed stock intercept fisheries on its return to spawn. All of these intercept fisheries are larger today than when I began fishing 50 years ago. Terminal fishing for salmon proved to be sustainable before the white man showed up and went farther and farther out into the ocean to intercept the salmon before they got to the Indians nets.

        Now as to Ruggerone’s pet theory that hatchery pink salmon are causing the decline in Chinooks, I got a bottle of Scotch that his pet theory is complete bull. It is easy to prove. There are two cape seine fisheries that catch both pink salmon and Chinook salmon at exactly the same time.(Southeastern coast and False Pass) These fish then go to a processing plant and their stomachs are removed and discarded. I am sure the processing plants would be willing to freeze some of these stomachs for inspection later in Seattle. Now seeing as how pinks are in the top 20 feet of the water column, and Chinooks are down deep, and the jaw size of the 3 pund pink salmon is far smaller that the jaw size of a 12 pound plus Chinook, I am willing to bet that they are not eating the same food.

        The analogy of overgrazing the pasture is a really bad analogy because these are not cows grazing on grass but in fact they are probably eating a 100 different species of ocean critters.

        I don’t wonder where the Chinooks went, but I am in wonder that there are any left at all.

      • Doug: There as so many assumptions and plain, old misstatements of fact here I don’t have time to deal with them all. But they’re pretty well summed up by your assertion that “pinks are in the top 20 feet of the water column, and Chinooks are down deep, and the jaw size of the 3 pund pink salmon is far smaller that the jaw size of a 12 pound plus Chinook, I am willing to bet that they are not eating the same food.”

        Someone who doesn’t understand that all of these fish start out their lives in the ocean as smolt a few inches longer or shorter clearly doesn’t begin to understand the science. There is well documented food competition at this age, but I doubt your processor friends seem many of this fish in the slime line.

        And I’ve never said that the ocean was a single pasture. That is your thinking, not mine. The ocean is a collection of unseen rivers that create good habitat in some areas and leave bad habit in others much like things work on land. This is why it is stupid to think we can keep dumping ever more hatchery fish into the ocean withotut consequences.

        Duh. It’s because the habitat is limited.

        I don’t think you have a bottle of Scotch to offer Ruggerone. I think you drained it before you typed so much nonsense here.

      • You personal attacks, are a sure sign that you are out of good arguments. As a commercial fishermen I know far more about where Chinooks are caught in the water column, than somebody who drives a keyboard and never checks their pet theories in the field.

        Show me the stomach contents. I notice you do not directly answer this serious issue, but go directly to the personal attack.

        Go look at your buddy Ruggerone’s paper that purportedly supports that punk salmon are impacting Chinooks. It is based on five years of data. When Ruggerone went back ten years, it disproved his working hypothesis.

        He cherry picked his data.

        I notice you don’t discuss the wisdom of checking bycatch data with crewmembers who were direct witnesses.

        Have you been bought off also.

      • I have no idea what you do or do not know about where Chinook spend their time in the water column. I do David Welch, who has put PIT tags on them and monitored them, surely knows more than either one of us.

        but you still don’t seem to get the point that this isn’t about where adult salmon are in the water column or what they eat, ie. what is in their stomachs. it is about where immature salmon are in the ocean and what they eat.

        thanks to Beamish’s effort to organize some ocean research more data on that is being gathered, but it’s still slim.

        i do like the reference to punk salmon even if I’ve never read any Ruggerone papers about punk salmon.

Leave a Reply