Bristol Bay Fisheries Report: July 31, 2019
KDLG by Isabelle Ross - July 31, 2019
This season held several surprises – from huge harvests to thermal barriers and late runs. And 2019’s age composition was no exception. We talk with a biologist from the University of Washington about the unexpected returns from this year and what it means.
Impacts of Increased Heat on Alaska’s Fish: Still more Questions but A Few Surprising Results
SeafoodNews.com by Peggy Parker - August 1, 2019
While Alaska’s summer fishing season reaches a fever pitch, a more literal warming of water temperatures is being studied by specialists in salmon metabolism, cod migration, and algae life cycles.
The focus of all this scientific study is Alaska’s northern and western territories and the full expanse of the Bering Sea.
In an Arctic Today story posted yesterday, author Yareth Rosen described what’s happening in the northern area of the Bering Sea around the Bering Strait as “mayhem has taken hold in the marine environment.”
Rosen reports the leading suspect is likely the extreme warmth in Alaska this year that broke terrestrial records and cooked marine waters. The phenomenon appears to be accelerating and flowing north through the narrow Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean.
Freeze-up that used to come in fall is now delayed to mid-winter and the ice that forms is thin. That thinner ice melts earlier, exposing open waters that absorb more of the sun’s heat. That means water temperatures soar, freeze-up is again delayed, the late-forming winter ice is again thin, melt is early, and so on.
Every year since 2015, the Bering Sea on the south side of the strait has melted out earlier than in every year before 2015. In the Chukchi Sea, to the north of the strait, the full Arctic winter freeze that used to come as early as the end of October is now arriving in mid-December or later; in the winter before last, the full freeze did not happen until New Year’s, Rosen wrote.
“We’ve fallen off the cliff. We’re not approaching the cliff. We’ve fallen off it,” Rick Thoman, a veteran scientist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, told an audience of Nome residents and visitors at a public forum held at the local college campus.
When there is little or no ice, seals and walruses cannot find platforms to rest in between food-foraging dives and during key life events like birth and nursing of young. More light penetrates the water, boosting phytoplankton blooms and upsetting a prior balance, benefitting fish and pelagic species in the upper reaches of the ocean water but reducing the amount of nutrition that drifts down to the deep-dwelling benthic species like tiny amphipods, clams, crabs and snails that are crucial to the marine-mammal food web.
The absence of a winter freeze also means lack of the usual “cold pool” of ultra-salty, super-chilled water that normally serves as an underwater barrier separating the high-fat, nutrition-dense species in the northern Bering Sea from the lower-fat species that live in the southern part of the sea.
Scientists are trying to find the precise mechanisms that happen in a warmer environment that may hurt fisheries populations. One culprit may be the spread of toxins from algal blooms that proliferate in warm water.
Studies are focused on two types of algal toxins — saxitoxin, which blocks nerve functions and causes sometimes-fatal paralytic shellfish poisoning, and domoic acid, which overheats the nervous system, causing seizures, permanent brain damage and, ultimately in some cases, death, Rosen wrote.
The northern Bering Sea may be primed for large-scale harmful algal blooms, experts said at a two-day Nome workshop organized by the Alaska Sea Grant program of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Alaska Ocean Observing System.
The algae that produces saxitoxin, Alexandrium, needs water temperatures of at least 46 degrees Fahrenheit to thrive, experts said at the July 16 and 17 workshop. That threshold was exceeded this summer in almost all parts of the Bering Strait region, with near-shore temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the near-shore Alaska areas and, as of mid-July, most of the region had sea surface temperatures at least 7.5 degrees above normal, according to NOAA.
Alexandrium can lie dormant for decades in underwater cysts, and Japanese researchers surveying the Bering Strait region in cruises from 2009 to 2012 found massive amounts of cysts in sediments from 18 to 21 centimeters deep, especially in the southern Chukchi Sea. With increasing warmth and sunlight penetration in the water, those cysts could bloom, and further research is “urgently needed,” said the Japanese scientists’ study explaining the findings, published in 2013 in the journal Harmful Algae.
Experts are mobilizing to gather more animal, water and sediment samples and more information, especially important in a region where people depend on the sea for their food.
“It’s not just an academic issue. It is a real-life public health and safety issue,” said Gay Sheffield, a Nome-based Alaska Sea Grant marine advisory agent.
Paralytic shellfish poisoning is a long-known danger in Alaska and all along the Pacific coast, with focus mostly in areas far south of the Bering Strait. Much less is known about algal toxins in the far north, but saxitoxin has shown up in necropsies of some seabirds and walruses that were among the masses found dead or sickened in 2017.
Another heat-related explanation for the die-offs could be lack of the high-quality, high-fat food in the environment. As water temperatures rise, the lower-fat species more typical of the southern Bering Sea are moving north, taking over the higher-fat northern species’ territory.
Among those is Pacific cod, a marine predator so voracious they are known to eat seabirds. Cod have become scarce in their traditional habitat to the south, to the extent that the state of Alaska sought a fisheries disaster declaration a few years ago.
Now it appears that cod populations have swum north, swarming Norton Sound, a place known for harvests of king crab. Fishermen there are finding more cod than ever before.
“We’ve caught more cod than crab, way more cod than crab,” Adelaine Ahmasuk, a resident of the area, told Rosen.
In Bristol Bay biologists saw salmon perishing in too-hot streams before they had a chance to spawn. KDLG’s Sage Smiley reported on research into the long-term effects of heat on salmon.
“Temperature has a non-linear effect on salmon at all stages of the life cycle,” said Daniel Schindler, a professor in the University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences and a principal investigator for their Alaska Salmon program told Smiley.
“There’s a very clear observation from the warming trend of the past decades,” he explained. “Juvenile salmon are growing faster in fresh water and spending more time in lakes and oceans.”
Schindler said the record-breaking runs of the past few years are likely due to the fact that warmer water has increased the survival rates of salmon smolt, because warm water increases food supplies for the young salmon.
The second issue is whether parasites in salmon are more widespread in warmer conditions. Schindler said his studies have not shown that to be the case. One of his students recently looked at parasite infestation data from smolt leaving Bristol Bay rivers in 2010 and compared it to data from the 1950s, and found almost no difference in the number of incidences of parasite infestation.
“The expectation is that warmer waters lead to higher parasite infestation,” he said, “But the data we’ve looked at just don’t suggest that’s the case.”
This isn’t to say that there aren’t parasites around in Bristol Bay, or that there won’t be more as water gets warmer. But Schindler said that at this point, research doesn’t show that steadily warming waters have ballooned the parasite populations. That might be because of some of Bristol Bay’s unique water qualities – runs here are shorter and fish don’t have to swim as far.
Finally, fish diseases can be very temperature dependent. The third question regarding salmon health is whether salmon in Bristol Bay see more diseases as conditions heat up.
“Warmer waters have the potential to increase disease risk,” said Jerri Bartholemew, Director of the Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory at Oregon State University. “If fish are migrating and then congregating, pathogens can be transferred from fish to fish and that can be bad.”
Bartholemew added that an increase in temperature does not equal a disease outbreak.
There are a multitude of factors that affect the spread of fish disease, and each differs based on the watershed and river system.
“In the last 50 to 70 years, the warming trend has translated into an increased abundance of salmon," Schindler said. "The concern is where you tip off the other side, but we haven’t seen that, even in the last few warm years.”
Salmon diseases can be more deadly in changing aquatic environments, but so far that hasn’t been the case in Bristol Bay.
Hope Fades for Big Pink, Chum Salmon Year in Alaska
SeafoodNews.com by Peggy Parker - July 31, 2019
Catches in Alaska now total 97.4 million salmon, still below what was hoped for at this time to achieve Alaska Department of Fish and Game's 2019 forecast of 213.2 million. Pink salmon fishing is ongoing but hope for large runs is waning in Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska.
The numbers now, before the coho season is underway or pink salmon seining is completed, tell a less than exuberant message. Compared to 137.8 million pink salmon forecast, only 35 million have been landed to date. That is comprised of 12 million from PWS, 3.8 million from Southeast, 8 million from Kodiak, and an astonishing 11 million from the Alaska Peninsula.
In Prince William Sound, the forecast for the pink salmon natural run was for 23.6 million, about 70% above the ten-year average. But escapement is below the daily and cumulative expected levels in the Eastern, Northern, Northwestern, Eshamy, and Southeastern Districts, ADF&G reports, and those areas are closed.
“Additional wild stock fishing opportunities will be dependent on aerial survey assessments and run entry of wild stocks,” ADF&G notes in its most recent report.
So far, the PWS pink salmon harvest through July 26 is estimated at 10 million fish and 1.2 million pinks for cost-recovery at the Valdez Fishery Development Association. The 5-year odd-year average through July 24 is 19.2 million fish.
“Wild stock run entry has been fairly limited since July 6 in all PWS districts,” the biologists reported on July 24.
“This seems to be partly due to the unseasonably warm weather and lack of precipitation that PWS has seen during July. Rain and cooler temps are forecasted for the upcoming week and there should be an uptick in run entry during this time frame as the next 2-3 weeks are traditionally the peak of run entry and harvest throughout PWS wild stock areas.”
The one bright area in the Sound is Port Chalmers Subdistrict in the Montague District for chum salmon. Some 250,000 chum was expected to return but so far, at the historical end of the season, cumulative chum salmon harvest is 1.52 million fish, close to five times the forecast, and an all-time high for this remote release fishery.
In the Southeast, the pink salmon harvest was predicted to be “weak” at about 18 million. It is far below that at a current cumulative catch of 3.8 million pinks.
The 2019 total enhanced summer chum salmon run was expected to eclipse 17 million fish, but to date chum salmon returns have been a tiny fraction of that. The Hidden Falls Terminal Harvest Area (THA) has been closed since June 27 for broodstock concerns, the Southeast Cove THA has been closed since July 4 for cost recovery operations, and recently the Neets Bay THA was closed for broodstock concerns. The Kendrick Bay, Anita Bay, Thomas Bay, and Deep Inlet THAs remain open with a reported purse seine chum salmon harvest of 55,000 fish to date.
Bristol Bay and the Copper River have delivered on sockeye, however, with 43 million from the Bay and 1.2 million from the Copper River, as well as .65 million from PWS’s Eshamy District. Pre-season forecasts for Bristol Bay were 26.1 million sockeye and from the Copper 1.4 million.
Low harvests of sockeye have been reported in Cook Inlet of not yet .4 million compared to a forecast of 3 million, and in Kodiak of 1.1 million which is below historical averages.
ADF&G's forecast of a large pink salmon harvest in Kodiak of 27 million did not materialize; so far harvests of pinks there are just under 6.5 million.
The 2019 South Alaska Peninsula prediction of pink salmon harvest was 20.6 million. Eleven million pink salmon have been caught so far, way above the average for this time of year of 1.8 million pinks.
Tariff wars: Duties imposed by Trump and U.S. trading partners
Reuters - August 1, 2019
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he would impose a 10% tariff on the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports starting Sept. 1, after negotiators failed to make progress in U.S.-China trade talks.
EPA Revives Permitting Process for Bristol Bay Copper Mine
The Maritime Executive - July 31, 2019
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reversed its 2014 decision to halt the permitting process for the Pebble Mine, a proposed copper mine project at the headwaters of the world's largest salmon fishery.
Writer's Notebook: 'Tin Can Country' stretches from Alaska to the Pacific Northwest
Daily Astorian by Matt Winters - July 27, 2019
In much the same way that it’s a good idea to assume anyone you talk to here may be related to nearly anyone else you might mention, it’s also fairly safe to assume they have some connection with Alaska. A desirable new book, “Tin Can Country: Southeast Alaska’s Historic Salmon Canneries,” drives home the strong bonds between the great state of the north and the Pacific Northwest.
Remembering 1919, one hundred years later
KDLG by Sage Smiley - July 29, 2019
The same year the Spanish flu hit Bristol Bay, the salmon run collapsed. These two events reshaped the region.
A century ago, Bristol Bay was changed forever by two simultaneous calamities: The Spanish flu pandemic and the collapse of the salmon run.
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