Calls for More Research, Funding at Salmon Symposium

Shaylon Cochran

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     Biologists and researchers took the podium for the second day of the Chinook Salmon Symposium held in Anchorage, which focused on what scientists know and what they have yet to learn about king salmon in the ocean.

     The purpose of the symposium was to identify gaps in the knowledge base concerning the lifecycle of king salmon and a common theme throughout the two days of presentation, panel discussions and question and answer sessions was the need for more research.  

     Dr. Phil Mundy from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ted Stevens Research Institute said there is a need for more coordination between researchers operating in the ocean waters off Alaska, which could help in bringing in more information.

     “I think we need to heighten the awareness of people who go out on research vessels about our needs,” Mundy said. "We need to watch for these…platforms of opportunity and try to get them to drag a net through the water every now and then."

     As the focus was on the marine environments in which Chinook spend a majority of their lives, the panel turned to Dr. Katie Howard, a retired professor from the University of Washington, who’s been studying Chinook ecology for three decades.  She said changing temperatures in the ocean are having significant effects on survival and return rates as they affect the food supply for kings.

     “During a warm climate, you might expect high survival, high growth rates and early maturation, early return of adults and about the opposite during a cool climate period,” Howard said.

     Those changing climate conditions help explain why areas in the Lower 48 are seeing increased returns as Alaskans continue to face declines.  Dr. Howard said a better understanding of the Chinook diet while in the ocean could provide useful insight, but would be difficult and expensive to undertake.

     And that was at the heart of almost every panel discussion; the need for more funding to continue or expand Chinook studies.  One way to get more information is to integrate traditional local knowledge with contemporary science.

     “Because what we want to understand is trends,” said Jeff Regnart, Commercial Fisheries Director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  ”These trends go well beyond our data set, which is 100 years or less,” Regnart said.

     He said the next step is to redraft the gap analysis, then lay out a new research plan based on what was learned at the symposium and the public comments the department receives.  The public comment period is open until November 9th.

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