Salmon studies: North Pacific project trawls for data, funding

“I like to say to people that after 100 years of research, we know a lot about salmon. But what we need to know most, we mostly don’t know,” said fisheries scientist Richard Beamish following the first International Year of the Salmon expedition this year. “We can’t forecast how a changing ocean ecosystem is going to affect salmon.”

Beamish, who organized the expedition and is an emeritus scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, British Columbia, is seeking $1.5 million from governments, the private sector and nonprofit organizations for a 2020 expansion. The program’s researchers would like to carry the program into 2021 to continue their work on North Pacific salmon stocks and climate change.

The 2019 expedition, which was a signature project of the program, kicked off in February with an international winter salmon study in the deepest regions of the Gulf of Alaska. The 2020 expedition would put two Russian trawlers on the water to expand the work of a pilot 25-day single-vessel survey that ran early this year in the Gulf of Alaska.

A bigger survey is in the works for 2021. It would involve five ships surveying the entire North Pacific Ocean. The cost of that project is estimated at $10 million.

Mark Saunders, Pacific director of the International Year of the Salmon, is working to gather funding and lock down research vessels from various foundations and the countries involved in the initial research — Canada, Russia, Japan, Korea and the United States.

The goal is to increase scientific knowledge of North Pacific salmon stocks as well as highlight the need for international cooperation.

“There is a certainty that the ecosystems are changing, and that means there is a certainty that it is going affect salmon abundance,” said Beamish in an interview with the Times Colonist.

“We need to understand the fundamental mechanisms regulating salmon,” Beamish said. “It’s long overdue to do that. With the certainty of ecosystem changes — major changes — we cannot be in a position in the future where every time we see something that is alarming that we basically didn’t anticipate it ahead of time.”

The International Year of the Salmon program is backed by the Anadromous Fish Commission, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization and other partners.

About the author

Samuel Hill

Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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