It’s the  International Year of the Salmon  – a celebration launched by the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC), which for over 25 years has promoted research collaboration and exchanges among scientists in its five member countries – the US, Canada, Russian, Japan and Korea.

The theme is “Salmon and people in a changing world” and a key mission will set out this month in the deepest regions of the Gulf of Alaska.

“The main inspiration for development of this project is just our awareness of the challenges the salmon meet in the open ocean related to the climate and in the coastal areas.”

Dr. Vladimir Radchenko is Commission director and one of the world’s leading salmon scientists.

The main goal of the Gulf project is to better understand the ocean phase of the salmon’s life cycle. That would improve knowledge to help forecast abundance and carrying capacity of the North Pacific.

Researchers have some fragmented understanding of salmon distribution in the Gulf area from past  surveys starting in the late 1980 by several countries. The project will run through March and will be done with trawl gear over a vast area.

“It will be a deep survey at about 72 trawl stations and oceanographic survey and plankton cages so we will have information on the whole ecosystem.”  

The salmon project will take place in international waters, 200 miles from shore.

“Since during the winter all salmon species migrate off shore and compare the previous patterns of distribution seen in previous longline and dipnet cruises and we have found that the main spots of salmon aggregation should be located beyond the EEZ in Feb and March.”

Radchenko says scientists in all countries believe that major salmon stocks are facing challenges from impacts of climate change, especially in southern areas of the North Pacific, where warming waters are wreaking havoc with salmon food sources.

“And we also will investigate plankton the forage base for salmon and we will see if the portion of northern plankton enriched by lipids is more nutritional for salmon than southern plankton which may come from the warm waters of the southern areas.”

March 28-30 in Kodiak

The warming could make some ocean waters unsuitable for salmon. Radchenko says that is one of the biggest climate change challenges.

It is one of the biggest climate changes problems evident now, maybe more important than ocean acidification.

The winter survey is set to be the first of many, depending on funds.

A primary goal of the International Year of the Salmon is to engage more people to help protect salmon and coastal societies.