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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fishery Fails in Alaska, Tied to Climate

WASHINGTON (CN) - A Chinook salmon fishery in Alaska has failed, the government acknowledged Friday, and scientists point to global warming. "When temperatures increase on salmon a spawning ground, that's often detrimental," said a government scientist. And with warming predicted to continue indefinitely, the chances that the wild salmon can recover are slim.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced the failure of the fishery on Friday.

The director of the government's Auke Bay Laboratories, Phil Mundy, pointed to Alaska's bar last year on all Chinook salmon fishing in the Yukon River.

"That is an indication of very low abundance," Mundy said, noting that the state has even blocked individuals from fishing for food. "It means literally taking food out of people's mouths."

Mundy proposed two reasons for the decline. The first being a sustained five degree temperature increase in air temperature of the salmon's breeding grounds in comparison to the temperature average 60 years. He said the region "has been among the most strongly affected by global warming."

Higher temperatures increase salmon diseases and hamper reproductive success, he added.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that increases in air temperature at the latitudes of the Yukon River spawning grounds will continue indefinitely.

Mundy also pointed to changes in the Bering Sea.

"The loss of sea ice is certainly a factor in the loss of food resources for the salmon," he said, noting that arthropods -- invertebrates such as insects and crabs -- that live on the underside of the floating ice.

The level of sea ice has been "radically impacted" over the last half-century, he added.

Chinook salmon spend their lives in both salt and fresh water. They spawn and breed in rivers and spending their adult lives in the ocean.

In a released statement, Locke expressed concern for the fishermen. "Alaska fishermen and their families are struggling with a substantial loss in income and revenues," he said. "These communities are very isolated and do not have the economic diversity to withstand the disastrous economic impact of extremely low or no commercial harvest coupled with a decline in subsistence harvests."

The determination that there is a commercial fishery failure comes at the request of Alaska Governor Sean Parnell. The government is prepared to help deliver resources to address the problem if they become available, although the disaster declaration does not entitle the state to federal funds.

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