Sockeye salmon suffer infections in warm Columbia River system

Columnaris lesions mar the gills of a sockeye salmon that was moving up the Columbia River in July 2015.

Columnaris lesions mar the gills of a sockeye salmon that was moving up the Columbia River in July 2015.

 

By Rich Landers, The Spokesman-Review

FISHING — “Catastrophic” is a word that’s being used as scientists begin to unravel the mystery of why at least 200,000 sockeye that moved over Bonneville Dam have not made it to McNary Dam fish ladders in this summer’s huge salmon runs.

The sockeye woes may explain why dozens if not hundreds of 5- to 12-foot-long decades old sturgeon stuffed with sockeye are going belly up in the Columbia between the Tri-Cities and The Dalles.

The Columbia system is plagued with high temperatures and low flows. This is bad news for native fish that need cool water.

Fish managers have enacted fishing restrictions in some areas, but otherwise there isn’t a lot they can do about Mother Nature.

The photos above are of sockeye sampled last week at Bonneville Dam by state and federal scientists.  The first dead sockeyes were noticed at the dam around June 8. This week, the fish scientists were finding dead fish, both shad and sockeye, in the Bonneville Dam fish ladder.

At the Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery, sockeye in rough shape were hanging out near the facility.

But the words scientists use to describe what’s going on are freakier than the photos.

A Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist said this in an email to colleagues:

We have very bad news from the lower Columbia.  These pictures are just a little piece of the story.  The run is stalled, and the carnage is ugly, with conversion rates from Bonneville to Ice Harbor (for Snake River fish) 2-5%.  Temperatures in the John Day reservoir approach 24 degrees, so nothing’s getting through without suffering.  Looks like we’re going to lose the last 1/3rd to ½ of the run.

Fish that have passed the Snake are still moving upstream, but can’t get to into the tributaries.  The fish that have entered the Wenatchee aren’t passing Tumwater Dam to continue on to Lake Wenatchee, and there’s no cold-water refugia below the dam unless they retreat downstream about 15 km to Peshastin Creek, which is a great steelhead stream but has no holding water for thousands of sockeye.  Besides that, the flows are about half normal discharge, the snow’s all melted out of the cold-water source for Peshastin Creek, and they’re diverting water for irrigation, so it’s bound to heat up.  For fish that passed Tumwater early, many have piled into a small tributary called Chiwaukum Creek, but it’s about the same size as Peshastin.

The Okanagan fish can’t leave Wells with the US Okanogan at 28 degrees C, and the reservoir is nearly 18 degrees C already.  The rate of diseased and injured fish observed in the count windows at Wells seems to increase every day—lots of lamprey scars and descale, and we’re starting to see fungus and bacterial lesions.  I don’t think the estuary provides hospitable holding, with lamprey and pinnipeds; so, I’m not sure we can count on a fall resurgence of migrants.

A British Columbia scientist commenting on this email thread among scientists wrote this:

Catastrophic losses of this year’s exceptional returns of adult Sockeye Salmon have begun to occur in the Columbia River given the unprecedented severity of super-optimal temperatures and low flows encountered along their freshwater migration corridor…. It’s probably fair to surmise that we may lose the majority of the nearly 350,000 wild adult Sockeye destined for Canadian portions of the Okanagan if Wells Pool, where they are currently holding, warms to temperatures much greater than 18 degrees Celsius for an appreciable length of time. Regrettably, this is highly likely to occur as temperatures are currently at 17.5 degrees and increasing while the Okanagan River is well in excess of the upper thermal lethal temperature of 25 degrees.

As noted in an earlier bulletin, we are also maintaining a Somass Salmon and Climate Watch given poor environmental conditions for either migration in the Somass River or for holding at the head end of Alberni Inlet. Although some fish managed to access their lakes of origin at Great Central and Sproat in the past few days, conditions are still marginal for passage and stored water released from behind the Great Central Lake Dam to supplement flows to ease passage under high temperature conditions has now been exhausted just as we head into what is on average the driest weeks of the summer-fall interval.

It may be advisable for DFO communications to identify “talking points” and “spokespersons” very soon to get out in front of events that will likely generate intense media interest. I’ve worked on BC salmon populations for more than 40 years and cannot remember anything comparable to what were currently seeing unfold on the coast !

Alaska sockeye could be undersold by other fisheries

By Laine Welch | For the Capital City Weekly

June 25, 2014

Uncertainty best sums up the mood as fishermen and processors await the world’s biggest sockeye salmon run at Bristol Bay. In fact, it’s being called the riskiest season in recent memory in the 2014 Sockeye Market Analysis, a biannual report done by the McDowell Group for the fishermen-run Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

As presaged by buyer pushback at seafood trade shows earlier this year in Boston and Brussels, for the first time since 2010 the starting price for the first sockeyes from Copper River took a $0.50/lb dip. At an average $3.50/lb, it was down 13 percent for fishermen from 2013.

“Probably more so than any recent year, processors are having pressure from both the buying side with more competition for fish in Bristol Bay, and on the selling side there is a very large sockeye forecast from the Fraser River (in British Columbia). And that fishery takes place in August well after Alaska’s sockeye fisheries are done,” said Andy Wink, seafood project manager at McDowell Group.

“If buyers hold off and there is a big Fraser run, it could leave Alaska processors holding some high-priced sockeye inventory. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with wholesale prices, but in general, there are more downside risks this year,” he added.

The expected catch at Fraser River is about 10 million sockeye, but it could be double that if fishermen and processors have the capacity to handle it.

Of course, farmed salmon remains a big market competitor – and in play this summer is red salmon from Russia. That fish is making big inroads into markets where it hasn’t been before.

“It wasn’t till 2013 when we really saw Russian sockeye going in any significant volume to markets outside of Japan,” Wink explained. “As our sockeyes become more expensive, Japan has been buying more from Russia. But last year we saw Russian sockeye exports outside of Japan go up 580 percent!”

On the upside, Wink said Alaska sockeye is an ever more popular brand, especially in the U.S.

“There is still a lot of demand, especially for fresh and frozen products, and there is strong demand from salmon smokers in Europe, and a growing market in the U.S. market. That’s really supported the entire Bristol Bay fishery over the last several years,” he said.

Sockeye salmon are Alaska’s must valuable species by far, usually worth two-thirds of the total statewide harvest. The 2014 Alaska sockeye harvest is projected at 33.6 million fish; roughly 18 million of the reds should come from Bristol Bay.

Find the easy-to-read 2014 Salmon Market Analysis at www.bbrsda.com.

Worker relief

Alaska seafood processors will soon get relief from worker shortages with the reinstatement of the J-1 Visa Summer Work/Travel Program. The J-1 program allows companies to recruit workers from outside the US when they can’t find enough Alaskans or workers from the Lower 48 during the busy salmon season. The State Department dropped seafood industry workers from the J-1 program two years ago.

Sens. Murkowski and Begich were successful in getting seafood workers added back into the J-1 Visa program. On Friday, the measure passed as part of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, and it now heads to the full Senate.

Salmon skin cream

A chance discovery by farmed salmon hatchery workers has spawned a line of skin care products that keep skin softer and younger looking.

“Aquapreneurs” in Norway became curious several years ago after they noticed that hatchery workers who spent long hours handling salmon fry in cold seawater had softer, smoother hands. Researchers at Norway’s University of Science and Technology discovered the skin-softening component came from the enzyme zonase, found in the hatching fluid of the salmon eggs. The enzyme’s task is to digest the protein structure of the tough egg shells without harming the tiny fish. The scientists hailed this dual ability as the secret behind the beneficial properties for human skin.

Now, Norway-based Aqua Bio Technology, which develops marine based ingredients for the personal care industry, has launched the zonase-infused product as Aquabeautine XL. Another personal care product using salmon hatching fluid is set to be launched at the end of the year, according to ABT’s website.

Death by sunscreen

All that sunblock being slathered on beachgoers around the world is causing major damage to ocean coral. A study funded by the European Commission revealed the mix of 20 compounds used to protect skin from the harmful effects of the sun causes rapid bleaching of coral reefs.

The World Trade Organization reports that 10 percent of world tourism takes place in tropical areas, with nearly 80 million people visiting coral reefs each year. The WTO estimates that up to 6,000 tons of sunscreen is released into reef areas each year – and that 10 percent of the world’s coral reefs are at risk of ‘death by sunscreen.’

While Alaska’s deep-sea corals face threats from ocean acidification, they are safe from sunscreen. Unlike tropical varieties, Alaska corals don’t form reefs – they grow into dense gardens and can live for hundreds of years. The waters surrounding the Aleutian Islands are believed to harbor the most abundant and diverse cold-water corals in the world.

Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s fishing industry since 1988. She lives in Kodiak. Visit her website at www.fishradio.com

Tribes could get help for sockeye fishery closure

Associated Press

SEATTLE — Commercial and tribal fishermen in Washington state could be getting federal help after the closure of the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery last year cost them millions of dollars.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker issued a disaster declaration for the fishery Tuesday. That allows Congress to send money to the affected communities.

The Fraser River flows from the Canadian Rockies into the Strait of Georgia at Vancouver, British Columbia. Low returns of sockeye to the river prompted the closure.

Several Washington tribes, including the Lummis, Nooksacks and Tulalips, fish for sockeye. They and the state’s nontribal, commercial fishermen typically bring in a collective $4.1 million per year from sockeye. The Commerce Department says last year, the total was just $115,000.

Pritzker said that if Congress appropriates money, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will work closely with Congress, the tribes and the state to distribute it.

Yakama Nation celebrate sockeye return to Cle Elum Lake for the first time in 100 years

By Thomas Boyd, The Oregonian

Yakama Nation biologists have released thousands of sockeye salmon into a Central Washington lake over the past four summers. The work, according to The Associated Press, is to restore fish runs that were decimated with the damming of area rivers and streams. Each fall, the just-released fish swam up the Cle Elum River to spawn and die. Their babies, meanwhile, spent a year in the lake before swimming to the ocean to grow into adulthood. Now, four years after the first release in 2009, those adult fish are returning to their birthplace to spawn, and tribal members are celebrating what they hope is the resurrection of a revered species to its native habitat. “You are part of a sacred ceremony to celebrate the return of an important ingredient to our body, our hearts, our life,” Yakama elder Russell Jim told the crowd gathered on the shore of Cle Elum Lake.

 

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON - Jun. 13, 2013 - Tribal Council Member Gerald Lewis conduct a blessing ceremony before releasing sockeye salmon into the lake, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON – Jun. 13, 2013 – Tribal Council Member Gerald Lewis conduct a blessing ceremony before releasing sockeye salmon into the lake, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

 

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON - Jun. 13, 2013 - Tribal elder Russell Jim, left, and Tribal Council Member Gerald Lewis conduct a blessing ceremony before releasing sockeye salmon into the lake, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON – Jun. 13, 2013 – Tribal elder Russell Jim, left, and Tribal Council Member Gerald Lewis conduct a blessing ceremony before releasing sockeye salmon into the lake, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

 

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON - Jun. 13, 2013 - Tribal elder Russell Jim is helped in to the bed of the truck to release sockeye salmon into the lake, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON – Jun. 13, 2013 – Tribal elder Russell Jim is helped in to the bed of the truck to release sockeye salmon into the lake, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

 

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON - Jun. 13, 2013 - Tribal elder Russell Jim smiles after releasing pulling the lever that released sockeye salmon into the lake during a ceremony Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON – Jun. 13, 2013 – Tribal elder Russell Jim smiles after releasing pulling the lever that released sockeye salmon into the lake during a ceremony Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

 

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON - Jun. 13, 2013 - Sockeye salmon were released into the lake in a ceremony Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON – Jun. 13, 2013 – Sockeye salmon were released into the lake in a ceremony Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

 

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON - Jun. 13, 2013 - “We need all the help we can get to restore our environment. Everything has life,” tribal member Virginia Beavert told the crowd attending the ceremony. “We need to take care of it.” Sockeye salmon were released into the lake in a ceremony Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON – Jun. 13, 2013 – “We need all the help we can get to restore our environment. Everything has life,” tribal member Virginia Beavert told the crowd attending the ceremony. “We need to take care of it.” Sockeye salmon were released into the lake in a ceremony Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

 

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON - Jun. 13, 2013 - Tribal dancers Vivian Delarosa, Nia Peters and Katrina Blackwolf, left to right, sign the Lord's prayer before the meal after sockeye salmon were released into the lake, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON – Jun. 13, 2013 – Tribal dancers Vivian Delarosa, Nia Peters and Katrina Blackwolf, left to right, sign the Lord’s prayer before the meal after sockeye salmon were released into the lake, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

 

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON - Jun. 13, 2013 - Media and bystanders watch as sockeye salmon were released into the lake, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

LAKE CLE ELUM, WASHINGTON – Jun. 13, 2013 – Media and bystanders watch as sockeye salmon were released into the lake, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, to mark the first return of sockeye salmon to Lake Cle Elum in 100 years. Sockeye salmon were reintroduced to the lake in 2009 by the Yakama Nation and the fish released today are the first of those salmon to return to the lake. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian