As king runs lag, fishers consider cause and prevention

The intersection of the Sockeye run and the Chinook run. (Photo by Ingrid Taylar / Flickr)

Concern over poor king salmon runs across the state drew a panel of fisheries experts together at a recent meeting in Anchorage.

The event focused mainly on a better understanding of the science behind population declines.

Panelists addressed the elements that play into ocean survivability, like fishing, predation, and warming waters.

National conservation nonprofit, Trout Unlimited, hosted the panel. Austin Williams, the group’s legal and policy director in Alaska, said there are still a lot of gaps in knowledge.

Williams said there’s a real need for continued research to address some of the reasons king runs are weaker.

“It’s an issue not just confined to Cook Inlet or the Anchorage area,” Williams said. “The Southeast Alaska Chinook runs have decreased dramatically and were entirely shut down this year and then some of the runs in Western Alaska have also been declining at alarming rates.”

Williams said, overall, the state has successfully managed its fisheries.

“We need to continue to do that and we need to continue to recognize that in the lean years when we don’t have as many fish returning as we’d like, we need to curtail back fishing and when we have years of abundance, we need to make sure that we go fishing and enjoy that,” Williams said.

Williams said there’s an overlay of politics and policy when managing the fisheries, but the panel looked at the things people have more control over, like how ensure that the fisheries remain productive and sustainable.

Panel moderator Dave Atcheson, a sport fisher and journalist, called the event “a start.”

“We’re hoping that this will spawn a whole lot more action and maybe to have a whole full day symposium in the future and also to get groups like Trout Unlimited and other organizations to see what we might do to help support studies that might be needed and that sort of thing to keep our fisheries healthy,” Atcheson said.

Other speakers touched on the importance of freshwater habitat in conserving fish stocks and public involvement in protecting natural resources.