Editor’s note: This is the ninth in the Morris Communications series “The case for conserving the Kenai king salmon.”
Alaska’s long-lived monarch — the king salmon — has fallen from its throne.
The species, which once thrived as a fabled ruler in state waters, was sought-after by fisherman from all over the world. Their massive presence in rivers like the Kenai, the Yukon and the Taku, to name only a few, brought sport and commercial fisherman to banks and river mouths for a chance to harvest this mighty resource.
The largest known king — weighing in at 126.5 pounds — was caught in a fish trap off Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska in 1938.
Today, fish of that caliber are seemingly nonexistent. Alaska has seen unprecedented declines in recent years resulting in declarations of economic disasters in some regions, or simply empty freezers in others. Researchers, management officials, commercial fisherman, subsistence users and sport fisherman are coming to the same conclusion — the fish are fewer and the sizes smaller.
That’s why scientists like Joe Orsi and Jim Murphy, both fisheries research biologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are digging deeper into decades of research to put forth evidence and findings that may lead to a solution or at least a clue to the cause of the startling downward trend.