Alaska/Pacific Coast

Commercial fishing season kicks off with higher prices, slow runs
Commercial fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet have been out since, kicking off what’s predicted to be a fairly slow sockeye salmon season.
Peninsula Clarion by Elizabeth Earl – July 4, 2017
As of Monday, Upper Cook Inlet drift gillnet fishermen and setnetters had harvested approximately 196,797 salmon, 186,212 of which were sockeye and 2,812 of which were kings. Not all the areas are open yet — only the northern district, the Kasilof section, two districts on Cook Inlet’s west side and the central district drift gillnet fishery are open. Setnetters along Cook Inlet’s east side near Kenai and Nikiski will open July 10.
http://peninsulaclarion.com/news/local/2017-07-04/commercial-fishing-season-kicks-higher-prices-slow-runs

Is having a special week in Seattle enough to make Alaska herring cool again?
Alaska Dispatch News by Suzanna Caldwell – July 3, 2017
Last week in Seattle, one kind of Alaska fish was served in dozens of restaurants around the city. It was in everything from pâté to tacos and piled high on open-faced sandwiches. One chef even used a pickled piece as a cocktail garnish.
https://www.adn.com/business-economy/2017/07/03/alaska-herring-just-had-its-own-week-in-seattle-is-it-enough-to-make-herring-cool-again/

Environment/Science

Scientist says hatchery strays could threaten wild fish populations
Alaska Dispatch News by Kelsey Lindsey – July 3, 2017
Whether it’s thanks to environmental cues, a keen sense of smell or a nifty magnetic instinct, Pacific salmon’s ability to navigate back to their home streams has captivated scientists and the general public alike.
https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/environment/2017/07/02/scientist-says-hatchery-strays-could-threaten-wild-fish-populations/

Young Pollock Survival Better than Expected During Most Recent Bering Sea Warm Phase
SEAFOODNEWS.COM by Peggy Parker – July 5, 2017
In 2015, scientists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center wanted to test a hypothesis about how warm sea temperatures affect young (from birth to a year old) pollock. At first glance, Bering Sea pollock seem to do best in warm conditions. During a single warm year, young pollock thrive. But if warm conditions persist for more than a year, the population declines. In the long run, pollock do better during a cold regime.

Scientists theorized that warm phases have an abundance of small, low-fat copepods; in cold conditions, larger, oil-rich copepods are more abundance. After a warm summer on a low-fat diet, young hpollock are abundant and lean; their cold-summer counterparts end up fewer but fatter.

Then winter comes, and in winter, fatter is better. Based on data collected during cold years up to 2015, this hypothesis held true. But no one had a chance to test it during a warm regime – until now.

A study led by NOAA Fisheries scientist Janet Duffy-Anderson, in collaboration with NOAA Research’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, documents changes in the Bering Sea ecosystem, from plankton to pollock, during the most recent warm episode of 2014-16. Their findings fit three new pieces into our understanding of how pollock respond to Bering Sea warming:

*Sea ice is important in many ways–one is the suite of energy-rich plankton that accompanies it.
*The reason it’s warm matters– and years 2014-2016 were warm for different reasons than 2001-2005.
*Pollock will find feeding opportunities if they exist–and they did in 2014-2016.

When the Bering Sea warmed in 2014, scientists were concerned that juvenile pollock populations would plummet as they did in the previous warm phase of 2001-2005.

Walleye pollock supports one of the world’s largest fisheries and produces the biggest catch of any species in the United States. However, dramatic swings in pollock recruitment (0 to 3 years old) pose challenges for fishery managers.

“We knew that sea ice and high quality food for young pollock were connected, but it wasn’t clear how,” says Duffy-Anderson. “Now we know that Arctic algae are attached to the sea ice. When the ice melts, these algae are released into the water column to be eaten by large, oil-rich zooplankton, which are in turn eaten by young pollock fattening up to prepare for the Bering Sea’s harsh winter. This chain of events is critical to pollock success.” Some warming mechanisms affect this chain of events more than others — not all warming events are the same.

The 2001-2005 warm stanza set in motion a cascade of ecological changes that resulted in a decline in the number of walleye pollock, ultimately leading to a 40% reduction in the fishing quota. Those years showed characteristics typical of warm years in the Bering Sea: weak winds from the north, lack of sea ice, and warm ocean bottom temperatures. Under those conditions the plankton community gradually transitioned to small, low-fat plankton–inadequate nutrition to provision young pollock for winter.

Sea ice eventually returned to the southeast Bering Sea shelf, ushering in a new stanza (2007-2013) of cold sea temperatures and large, oil-rich prey. By 2013, recruitment to the pollock fishery had recovered completely.

When ocean conditions turned warm again in 2014—showing the typical pattern of weak Arctic winds and reduced sea ice—scientists were concerned that it was the beginning of a new warm stanza and a repeat performance of 2001-2005. And as expected, pollock survival declined after 2014. “But pollock can weather one warm season,” says Duffy-Anderson. “A second warm year had the potential to be devastating.”

With special funding from the NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Science & Technology, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center Recruitment Processes Alliance was able observe the eastern Bering Sea ecosystem during the second warm year (2015) when normally their surveys were focused on the Gulf of Alaska ecosystem

2015 proved to be even warmer than 2014–but the reason it was warm was something not seen before. 2015 acted like a cold year: strong winds from the north pushed Arctic sea ice southward to the southern Bering Sea.

But then sea ice met the Blob.

Sea ice was stopped in its tracks by a mass of warm water invading the Bering Sea from the Gulf of Alaska—“the Blob”. Warm Blob water melted sea ice before it could go any further, keeping the waters of the southern Bering Sea shelf very warm and unproductive. However, as sea ice retreated it left a “cold pool” of meltwater with a suite of Arctic algae and energy-rich zooplankton behind.

By 2016, winds from the Arctic were again weak, sea ice absent, and water very warm over the southern shelf. The cold pool had shrunk and retreated far northward, becoming unavailable to young pollock seeking refuge. Large copepod prey were scarce. Yet high-energy krill remained over the southern shelf–possibly remnant populations from 2015.

The number of pollock that survived their first year in 2015 was higher than expected for a second consecutive warm year, based on surveys of fish in their first year of life. This could mean good news for the fishery, and suggests that young pollock found food resources despite the warm, unproductive conditions of the southern Bering Sea shelf.

“Young pollock from the southern shelf may have taken refuge in the northern cold pool in 2015, feeding on fat-rich copepods or krill,” Duffy-Anderson explains. “Unlike adults, juvenile pollock can tolerate the frigid waters of the cold pool. For young fish the cold pool offers both high quality prey and less energy expenditure since their metabolism is lower in cold water.”

In 2016, pollock may have found another way to buffer warm ecosystem effects.

“Pollock consumed large numbers of krill, possibly remnant populations from 2015. This suggests that in 2016 pollock found another way to survive: switch prey sources,” Duffy-Anderson says. “We don’t have estimates of overwinter survival for the 2016 cohort yet, but our data indicates it could again be level, which is surprising during a third consecutive warm year,” says Duffy-Anderson.

Despite this lucky respite, Duffy-Anderson cautions that successive warm years that arise because of reduced Arctic winds, weak sea ice advance, and warm ocean temperatures still spell trouble for pollock. “We are watching for prolonged warming conditions that don’t support ecological refuges for young pollock. Pollock can take advantage of alternatives when available, but that isn’t always the case as we saw during 2001-2005.”

Duffy-Anderson proposes that the negative impact of the recent Warm Year stanza (2014–2016) on the Bering Sea pollock population may be mitigated by selective use of thermal refuges and alternative food sources. So juvenile pollock may be able to withstand an acute warming event and avoid the devastating effects on recruitment observed during the prior Warm Year stanza (2001–2005).

Presently, there is evidence of cooler conditions over the SEBS shelf as sea ice has formed primarily along the coastline of the Alaska mainland, descending as far as 58 oN (March 2017). Ocean temperatures derived from year-round moorings indicate bottom temperatures ~3 oC.
http://www.seafoodnews.com/Story/1067372/Young-Pollock-Survival-Better-than-Expected-During-Most-Recent-Bering-Sea-Warm-Phase

Scientists baffled by strange sea creatures near Alaska
ABC News by Associated Press – July 3, 2017,
Strange sea creatures that resemble large pink thimbles are showing up on the coast of southeast Alaska for the first time after making their way north along the West Coast for the last few years.
http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/scientists-baffled-strange-sea-creatures-alaska-48423948

FYI’s

Norton Sound beluga whale population is ‘abundant,’ new survey suggests
KNOM by Davis Hovey – July 3, 2017
A recent aerial survey of the eastern Bering Sea suggests the Norton Sound beluga whale population is abundant in number.
http://www.ktoo.org/2017/07/03/norton-sound-beluga-whale-population-abundant-new-survey-suggests/

Ann Owens
Pacific Seafood Processors Association
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July 5 , 2017