Wednesday, June 26, 2013

King Salmon Not Showing

The Copper River has shut down the harvest of king salmon.  The Yukon will most likely not open at all this year.  The Kenai River count is one-fifth of what it was last year at this time.  In the Deshka River authorities have spotted 1,683 kings as of Wednesday, as compared with the 20,000 that passed a decade ago during the same period.  It is evident that 2013 will not be a boom year for king (chinook) salmon.

30lb Chinook from Columbia River
Several scientists are offering different reasons for the decline in returning fish.  Some blame the commercial pollack fishery, some blame mother nature and late spring weather, others are pointing to the fish's changing ocean habits.  It may not be all doom and gloom though, if we l
ook at the history of the matter.  According to research extreme fluctuations in populations and returns of several varieties of fish, including salmon, have always existed.  There is sediment evidence in river beds going back 500 years that not every salmon class returned in strong numbers.  There is evidence of several year periods where hundreds of thousands of salmon returned, followed by periods where only tens of thousands of fish returned.  These drastic fluctuations existed before commercial harvesting.

For the Copper River to retain a healthy population, at least 24,000 kings must make it upriver to spawn.  To ensure this happens they have shut down the season.  Other rivers will see early closures or in some cases, will not open at all.  Some rivers may be able to harvest throughout the season without restraint.  It is a little early to begin pointing fingers, especially when verifiable proof does not seem to be evident.  For now, I am inclined to believe that we are part of a cyclic fluctuation.  A robust population is just one aspect of a sustainable population.  Management is another.  So far the Pacific Wild Salmon Industry has lived up to its reputation by doing the right thing and letting the fish go upriver to spawn, business be damned.  Diligence is required if we are to ensure the health of wild fish populations; if we are to err, it is best to err on the side of the fish.  They are much more valuable swimming upriver next year than they are served on our plates this year.

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