Tag Archives: salmon

The shrinking of Alaska’s salmon

Salmon returning home to spawn

Salmon is a vital resource in the state, so it should come as no surprise that Alaska has been studying salmon since before statehood. For over 60 years, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has kept detailed records of length, weight, age and escapement for four species of Pacific salmon that spawn here.

Graph credit: University of Alaska – Fairbanks

The salmon that return to Alaska from their time in the ocean, are now smaller than they have been historically. The reason: They are returning to spawn at a younger age.

The Chinook, Alaska’s state fish, has been the hardest hit. King salmon are, on average, coming in at 8% smaller than in the 1980’s. The coho, or silver salmon is 3.3% smaller, chum is at 2.4%, and the sockeye 2.1. The decrease in size has accelerated since 2010 for all four species.

At first glance, what is 8% really? Well, the ramifications are large and far reaching. The Yukon-Kuskokwim River system is the largest subsistence area in the entire country. It takes more fish to feed a family. Commercial fishermen also must catch more fish to make the same amount of money.

Environmentally, the entire ecosystem relies on the salmon returning to spawn. Just the reduction in chinook salmon size alone means a reduction of 16% in egg production, i.e. future salmon populations; and a 28% reduction in nutrients going back into the river systems. For the pocket book issues: the reduction in king salmon means a 26% reduction as a food source, and a 21% reduction in the value of the fishery.

There does not appear to be one smoking gun for the change in Alaska’s salmon population, but a series of events that effect each species differently. Warming ocean temperatures are partly to blame, but so is competition between wild and hatchery populations. Size-selective fishing seems to also be a part of the equation, especially with the mighty chinook.

Wild salmon can stay out in the ocean for up to 7 years, but now they are often returning to fresh water to spawn at 4 years.

Sources: University of Alaska – Fairbanks; Alaska Dept of Fish & Game; Alaska Public Media; Fairbanks Daily News-Miner


Sailboat in Resurrection Bay

Film Friday:

Resurrection Bay; Seward, Alaska

Camera: Minolta SRT201; Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar100


Happy Halloween


Alaska Jökulhlaup

A large glacial dam gave way in Southeast Alaska this summer. Known by its Icelandic term: jökulhlaup, the power of this sudden release of pent up water can be incredibly destructive.

The terminus of Lituya Glacier; Photo credit: NPS/J. Capra

Desolation Lake, which sits above the Lituya Glacier in Desolation Valley, collects meltwater from both the Desolation and Fairweather Glaciers. That meltwater is normally blocked by the Lituya Glacier, forming the roughly four square mile lake.

The water level suddenly dropped 200 feet.

A commercial fisherman, Jim Moore, along with his two grandsons, tried to enter Lituya Bay to fish for Chinooks in August. They should have been riding the tide into the bay, but the unusually muddy water was moving outward, and it was filled with trees and other debris. The bay was also filled with small icebergs. Moore managed to bring some of the ancient ice onboard for his coolers, then left the bay, instead of fighting the dangerous current.

Lituya Glacier terminus and delta; Satellite image credit: USGS

It is one of the largest jökulhlaups known to have occurred in Alaska. The water found a path under the Lituya Glacier, causing a rush that would have rivaled the hourly discharge of the Amazon River. It would have lasted for several days.*

Lituya Bay has a history. In 1958, an earthquake triggered a landslide that started one of the largest known tsunamis at over 1700 feet.

*NPS Geologist, Michael Loso


Seven-Four-Seven

Katmai Bear #747; Photo credit: Katmai Bear Cams

The winner of Katmai’s Fat Bear Week, is Bear #747. The bear that shares a number with a wide-body jet airplane, is the champion of 2020.

747 first appeared on the Brooks River scene in 2004. At that time, the young, male bruin could not maintain prime fishing spots against the other bears. That is no longer the case.

747 is now one of the most dominate bears at Brooks Falls, and he is a talented catcher of salmon. He is not the most aggressive of the bears, but 747 does not have to be. Most bears get out of his way just because of his size. In 2019, 747 was estimated to weigh 1400 pounds. He has attained that weight, if not more, in 2020.

In full disclosure: 747 was my personal favorite for this year’s Fat Bear Week. No attempt was made to influence voters.


Fat Bear Tuesday

The Fat Bear Title is on the line:

The Bracket

There will not be a repeat winner this year in Katmai. Last year’s champ, Holly, lost to eventual finalist Chunk.

Voting starts at 8am ADT on Tuesday for the title. “Wide Body” 747 takes on “Chunk”, Bear #32.

747: Before & after pics

The amount of weight these brown bears put on over the course of the summer is really astounding. The bears enter a state of hyperphagia, which suppresses leptin, which is the chemical in the bears’ body that tells the animal that it is full.

Bears often eat dozens of sockeye salmon at a time, although one especially motivated bear was documented eating 40 salmon in one sitting! Each salmon brings in around 4000 calories.

Chunk: Before & after pics

A bear fishing Brooks River in Katmai can easily gain four pounds a day eating salmon, sedge grasses and berries. As salmon numbers tail off in September, the bears will start to move away from the river and dine elsewhere. Although, stragglers will remain around the Brooks River & Brooks Falls through the month of October.

Head over to explore.org to vote:

https://explore.org/fat-bear-week?fbclid=IwAR3Bigm7fJl9pbH-oTYmA2UCFj8h20bL_RAG9mPH4pW3NHY8oojqFNtU4h8

Bracket and photos courtesy of Katmai National Park


Fat Bear Week 2020

The Bracket

The bracket for Fat Bear Week has dropped. Voting starts tomorrow, September 30. Four bruins have earned a first round bye: Fan favorite Otis; “Wide-Body” 747; last year’s champion, Holly; and Grazer,Bear #128.

This year, Katmai National Park has a new, secure, tamper-proof, website for voting. Each day, voting will end at 6pm ADT.

To vote for the fattest bear on the Brooks River, head over to this site:

http://explore.org/fat-bear-week


The end of the run…

Tundra, by Chad Carpenter


Bear Glacier

Bear Glacier of Resurrection Bay


Fishing Resurrection Bay