Fish scientist: Low king salmon returns not caused by overfishing
Low king salmon returns are a major concern this year in several parts of the state: Chignik, the Kenai, Copper River, Ship Creek in Anchorage, and particularly in Southeast Alaska.
So much so that in its 2018 forecast, the Alaska Dept. of Fish and game called Southeast returns the "lowest runs on record using historical information spanning many decades."
"It’s not overfishing, and it is something that’s going on statewide," Jim Hasbrouck, a fisheries scientist with the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game said on Saturday.
Hasbrouck says Fish and Game started noticing the decline in 2007, and has been closely monitoring it since. But it's been challenging to reverse the trend.
"It’s something that’s going on in the marine environment and the marine environment in the Gulf of Alaska is extremely complex. It’s probably not one individual factor that’s causing the decline in marine production. There could be decline in food source for the young, juvenile fish when they first enter the sea, there could be competition. There could be changes in the water," Hasbrouck said, adding that it could also be a change in the number of predators that threaten the species. "We’ve heard of increased killer whale and sea lion populations, marine mammals in the Gulf of Alaska."
Hasbrouck says the Fish and Game taking steps to try to boost the numbers.
"We have been managing fisheries conservatively. We’ve closed a lot of fisheries and restricted a lot of fisheries in 2018, this is not the first year that we’ve done that," Hasbrouck noted.
In a rare move, Fish and Game closed part of Ship Creek in Anchorage briefly due to the low king salmon returns. Hasbrouck says Alaskans should be concerned, but not necessarily worried about the fish's future.
"We’ve seen kind of a higher proportion of young salmon in runs that we have been assessing this year. Both in Southeast and in Southcentral. That makes at least me a little cautiously optimistic that the runs of the next few years may be better than they are in 2018."
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