Slow Salmon Year Prompts Questions

By Jackson Pool
Staff Writer

Depending on who you talk to, 2016 was a terrible season for salmon. Julie Landwehr, an Oceanography and Marine Biology teacher, said this poor return could be part of a longer trend.
“In my opinion, 2013 was great year, while 2016 was a bust,” she said. “And I fear that they will stay low.”
Though pink salmon numbers were low, the salmon that did return, were large.
The state record was broken twice in a 3-day period on the Kenai River, the largest was a 13-pound 10.6 oz, behemoth.
Landwehr said this makes sense.
“Big fish correlate small numbers.”
Social Sciences teacher and local fisherman Dave Mitchell was disappointed in the silver return this year.
“It was definitely a down year for silver fishing in Ketchikan. Charter fishermen and processors alike. The silvers just never showed up, it is usually easy to get a limit this time of year, but that wasn’t the occasion.”
But it might not just be doom and gloom.
D Jay O’Brien, also a science teacher, has confidence salmon returns will improve and that this is just part of the natural ebbs and flows.
“I think that we are going to bounce back in fish numbers and as the charts or data shows in the past we have been low before,” he said.
It still begs the question, what caused the dip?
Many believe it is because of the warm weather in recent summers while O’Brien is focused on the next generation of salmon.
“The warm stretches we have cause creek levels to go down, and egg deposition for salmon goes down.”
But once fish reach the ocean, they aren’t in the clear.
“The kings have been declining for many years,” Landwehr stated. “But ‘The Blob’ (Pacific Ocean warm water) is directly involved with numbers, salmon may have moved, possibly scattered because of chemical changes, or they couldn’t get enough food.”
The food count for fish and other marine species is also a theory, O’Brien noticed a deficit in herring numbers.
“When you put extra stress on herring, like the opening of Vallenar Bay 5 years ago, that feed will start to go down,” O’Brien said. “It feeds so many other species, that it could manifest itself in the size of the fish that we see and catch.”
So, what can we expect for the future of our region’s rich fishing history?
Well, there are two opinions on this matter, Landwehr believes that our state should weigh our options and expand more. “They need to continue to focus on dive fisheries, keep diversifying, stop closing in on salmon specifically.”
On the other hand, O’Brien has hopes for the future.
“We have management intact, we have monitoring, and that gives me hope, with an intact ecosystem, I think we can bounce back.”

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