Seawatch: Scientific survey finds high catch numbers

Seawatch: Scientific survey finds high catch numbers

An international scientific expedition is trawling far offshore for Pacific salmon even though some researchers chose to leave the ship as worries escalated about COVID-19, according to a story by Postmedia.

On March 11, the chartered commercial trawler Pacific Legacy No. 1 left Victoria Harbor for a 25-day trip, carrying a large net to haul in salmon for examination.

The vessel had been carrying three American scientists, along with three Russian and six Canadian researchers. U.S. scientists decided to return home when the vessel made a scheduled stop this week in Prince Rupert, said Nanaimo’s Richard Beamish, who is organizing the $1.45-million voyage with fellow scientist Brian Riddell.

Aside from some initial seasickness by the team, everyone is healthy, Beamish said.

So far, catches have been “remarkable,” he added. “The science is going to be outstanding.”

Catch numbers are two-to-three times larger than during last year’s survey, Beamish said last Thursday.

Beamish and Riddell staged the first international survey in the Gulf of Alaska in the North Pacific in winter 2019 after raising more than $1 million.

Surveys are being carried out as many salmon stocks plunge. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is predicting this year’s returns of salmon will be as low as in 2019.

Last year’s return of Fraser River sockeye salmon was the lowest on record and other salmon species came in below expectations as well, and as strict rules were imposed to save certain stocks, such as chinook, the favorite meal of endangered southern resident killer whales.

Fishermen are fearing they will face another major loss to their livelihoods this year.

The scientific team is out on the water to try to figure out how salmon survive during the winters, how many are out in the ocean, and where they can be found. Surveys are done in the winter because it is believed that the first winter at sea gives scientists a good idea of future survival rates. Also, the fish are not in the midst of heading back to their home rivers.

Little is known about where in the Pacific Ocean the different species of salmon spend the bulk of their lives.

“What we are finding is completely different than what we imagined,” Beamish said.

Large catches of pink and chum were hauled onboard outside of the Canadian 200-mile limit at the southern end of their survey. The vessel then headed west for more trawls.

Sockeye were hauled in last week at a stop about 4 miles within the U.S. zone, off northwest B.C., close to Dixon Entrance.

Beamish said, “Scientifically we would have expected sockeye way out to sea. Last year we got sockeye in the middle of the Pacific so none of us would have expected sockeye salmon to be there.”

Upcoming research on the DNA of those fish will reveal where they are from.

“No matter what we find out, it will be new to science,” he said. “It will start to fill in some of the missing pieces about what really regulates the abundance of sockeye once they leave the near-shore areas.”

This year, surveys in the southern part of the study areas will be repeated rather than going into the North Pacific because poor weather is forecast and because of the high numbers in earlier catches, Beamish said.

After fishing in Dixon Entrance, the vessel is heading west and then south. The final four to five days will be fishing off the west coast of Vancouver Island, he said. “That’s where I think we will find large concentrations of pink salmon.”

Financial support for this expedition came from the public and private sector, nonprofit organizations and individuals. A third survey is planned for next year. It is being put on by the International Year of the Salmon, through the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission.

While the International Year of the Salmon was technically 2019, it is an initiative to inform and stimulate outreach and research, and that research is ongoing and designed to bring user groups together to protect a common resource.

Find more information at yearofthesalmon.org.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com

More in News

Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion 
Soldotna High School English teacher Nicole Hewitt teaches her students remotely from her empty classroom at Soldotna High School on Monday, April 6, 2020 in Soldotna, Alaska.
‘Birthed by circumstance’: SoHi takes on COVID-19 in spring play

Soldotna High School students will share their COVID-19 experiences beginning on April… Continue reading

Homer News file photo
Homer High School.
School announcements

School district risk level update and upcoming events

Tracy Silta (left) administers a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to Melissa Linton during a vaccine clinic at Soldotna Prep School on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Get the vaccine’

Amid growing concern of long-term COVID symptoms, public health officials urge vigilance

Students Sabriel Davidson and Kenadi Smith play on the swings on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021 at Fireweed Academy in Homer, Alaska. Elementary students were able to return to onsite schooling five days a week starting Monday. (Photo courtesy Todd Hindman/Fireweed Academy)
District to relax mask requirement during outdoor activities

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is planning to relax masking requirements… Continue reading

A sign on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, on the Sterling Highway near Soundview Avenue announces the availability of COVID-19 vaccines in Homer, Alaska, . (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
In public service announcement, governor urges Alaskans to get vaccinated

South Peninsula Hospital expects more than 2,000 doses in April

Jim Cockrell speaks at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Dunleavy taps Cockrell to head public safety

Cockrell is a former wildlife trooper and Marathon security supervisor.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Homer downgrades alert level to yellow

Alert level remains high statewide with 19.93 cases per 100,000.

Former Speaker of the House Gail Phillips is shown in this undated photo from the early 1990s taken in Homer, Alaska. (Homer News file photo)
Longtime Kenai Peninsula politician Phillips served 20 years in elected office

Phillips honored for role as mentor, leader and volunteer

Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Seawatch: IFQ rules extended

Pandemic regulations extended another season allowing medical transfers of IFQ

Most Read