Fish Radio

Chinook research funding cut, key projects continue

August 26, 2015

Chemical tags in ear bones track Bristol Bay Chinook salmon Credit: adfg

Chemical tags in ear bones track Bristol Bay Chinook salmon
Credit: adfg


This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Funding for Chinook salmon research gets slashed.  More after this –

Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg now offers free gear and vessel listings. Check it out at

Want great seafood recipes, from fast and easy to gourmet feasts? Find hundreds of heart healthy recipes from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute at .

Chinook Salmon Research was a casualty of this year’s budget cuts – the 5 year, $30 million dollar Initiative launched two years ago as a way to find out why  Chinook stocks have been declining  since 2007.  It covered three dozen projects in 12 major rivers from Southeast to the Yukon. Now it’s been     winnowed to about one dozen projects.

They’re kinda the key projects that we’re trying  to see some really interesting results on that we want to keep them living as long as we can with the hope that another appropriation will be coming down the pike. 

Ed Jones is a coordinator with the state Sport Fish Division and oversees the Chinook research team.

Continuing with remaining funds will be Chinook harvest sampling programs at Prince William Sound, Kodiak and Cook Inlet and Southeast.

Those projects are very important. They identify stocks of Chinook salmon over time in our catches. You know the old assumption that you catch a Chinook right off the mouth of a river and it’s going to that river, we’re starting to realize that’s not necessarily the case.  

Also saved is the two year juvenile Chinook tagging and genetics project at the Copper River.

“So when those fish start to return as adults to Prince William Sound, we will be able to tell what stocks in that catch are actually going into the Copper River and what stocks are going elsewhere. And in theory, we’ll be able to tell what the marine survival is of the Chinook salmon over time.  That’s pretty neat. 

New programs that track adult salmon on the Kuskokwim and Bristol Bay’s Nushagak Rivers already are yielding early results. They’ve learned that on the Nushagak, there are more Chinook than they thought because they  run in the middle of the river to avoid sockeyes and are missed by sonar counters.

“I’ve always thought the Nushagak was probably one of the largest producers of wild Chinook salmon in the world,” Jones added, “And certainly with the Kuskokwim and the Yukon, those three systems in any given year could be the world’s largest producer.”  

  In Southeast Alaska,  Chinook salmon stock assessments have been in the water since the early 1990s and Jones says they by far are the leaders along the entire coast.  He hopes the Initiative can “move those methods  northward to the rest of the state.

In Southeast we had projects in the water that basically identified the problem was not our fresh waters environment, the fish were dying  in the marine environment at a higher rate than they ever had been.  We couldn’t really say that up north because we didn’t have the projects in the water. 


Chinook salmon spend five years at sea before returning home streams to spawn, and their runs consist of multiple age classes, mostly five year olds.  This year, the runs showed some hopeful signs.

“Long story short – what we’ve seen in recent years is back to back poor brood year production over multiple years. But this year we finally saw a bright spot with that 2010 brood year, and next year we have very good confidence in average to above average production of six year olds. That’s a good sign, but what we really need to see is back to back good brood years. Then I’ll start saying we’re climbing out of the hole and starting to cycle in the other direction.”  

Find links to Chinook News and more at

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods. Ocean Beauty has contributed over 10 million meals to the U.S. Food Bank network, and is committed to ending hunger in America. In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch .