Where Did All the King Salmon Go?
New king salmon fishing restrictions could hurt subsistence fishers
ANCHORAGE - State fisheries managers said the numbers of king salmon returning to Alaska are the lowest they've seen since the 1970s.
It’s causing a large number of restrictions to be put on fishermen across the state - including subsistence communities.
In Anchorage, locals are also noticing a change.
Richard Olson and his wife Sandra have been going down to Ship Creek to fish for king salmon for more than five years.
"In years past there'd be 60, 70, 80 people up and down both sides of this bank all the way down to the mouth where it flows into the ocean,” said Olson.
"I haven't seen any salmon caught in the five days that I've been down fishing in the last week – nothing.”
Sitting on the banks of Ship Creek hour after hour, Olson has a lot of time to think.
"It makes me wonder what's going on out in the ocean,” he said. And that's exactly what state fishery managers are wondering too.
"There is something big going on out in the ocean, apparently, that the Department of Fish and Game doesn't have an official statement on yet,” said Ken Marsh, Information Officer with the Division of Sport Fish.
One theory biologists have is the drop in ocean temperatures in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.
"From 2006 to present we have experienced some abruptly colder surface temperatures in the ocean and that may have some affect on the young king salmon as they come out and try to develop," said Marsh.
With the colder water, fishery experts say the juvenile king salmon may not be surviving because their food source has dwindled.
The distribution of the king's predators may also have changed.
The state division of sport fish said it will continue to work with federal agencies to find why the Chinook have left their Alaska kingdom.
U.S. Senator Mark Begich plans to be in Bethel next Monday to talk to community leaders and fishery managers.
The king salmon fishery along the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers are largely closed and locals, many who rely on subsistence fishing, are worried they will be short on food this coming winter.