Alaska’s Cop­per River sock­eye run sec­ond low­est in 50 years

Times Colonist - - Business -

ANCHORAGE — The com­mer­cial salmon har­vest in Alaska’s Cop­per River is so far the sec­ond low­est in 50 years, say state of­fi­cials.

The Alaska De­part­ment of Fish and Game’s fish count shows nearly 155,000 sock­eye salmon have passed the counter on the river from mid-May to Sun­day.

More than 320,000 sock­eye salmon swam up the river dur­ing the same pe­riod last year, ac­cord­ing to the de­part­ment.

Warmer ocean tem­per­a­tures might be con­tribut­ing to the de­cline, said Art Nel­son, a de­part­ment spokesper­son for com­mer­cial fish­eries.

“One of the the­o­ries is that there had been a num­ber of years of un­usu­ally warm wa­ter in the North Pa­cific that was re­ferred to as the blob, and that is one of the things that folks be­lieve is lead­ing to the poor pro­duc­tiv­ity, poor feed for the salmon and then poor salmon pro­duc­tiv­ity be­cause of that,” Nel­son said.

The chang­ing tem­per­a­tures could affect the salmon har­vest in the Cop­per River, said Nick Bond, a re­search sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of Washington and a state cli­ma­tol­o­gist. Bond coined the term “blob” to re­fer to a large mass of warmer-than-nor­mal wa­ter in the Pa­cific North­west that was first noted in 2013.

“The ecosys­tem is a com­pli­cated sys­tem with a lot of dif­fer­ent in­ter­act­ing parts to it, but we’re see­ing dis­rup­tions of var­i­ous sorts in the marine food web,” Bond said. “Cer­tainly, a work­ing hy­poth­e­sis is we’re see­ing the work­ing hang­over of the blob.”

Salmon pop­u­la­tions that are re­turn­ing this year prob­a­bly went out to sea dur­ing one of the first years of the blob, Bond said.

The sur­face ocean tem­per­a­tures around Alaska are mostly mov­ing closer to the av­er­age temperature, he said. The marine en­vi­ron­ment might re­turn to a more nor­mal con­di­tion, but other effects might be­come ap­par­ent later, he said.

The re­turns for most species are cur­rently low, which might drive salmon prices higher this sum­mer, Nel­son said.

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