Sunday, November 16, 2008
One of the causes for dying off of the local Orca population may well be a lack of food. One way to know -and there are many- is to count the number of salmon coming through the locks Only 38,000 sockeye are said to have been counted at one lock location, whereas an expected historical number would have been 300,000 or more.
One of the theories as to why the sockeye numbers are so low is related to warmer water. After the young fish leave fresh water for the ocean they be entering one of the so called dead zones that have been created off the coast of the western states and British Columbia.
It is believed these zones are caused by a change in water temperature, which can cause an upwelling of low oxygenated water to come to the surface. Living things in this zone can be killed due to the lack of oxygen, and the lack of food then results in the killing of the young salmon, which in return reduces the amount of food for the Orca.
It has also been noted that warmer waters can extend the range of predators into areas where they would not normally be, and they may have found the starving salmon smolts as a waiting feast.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez sent out a press release stating they had “determined that there has been a commercial fishery failure due to a continued fisheries resource disaster in the sockeye salmon fisheries in Puget Sound and the northern Pacific coast of Washington.” Not new really, but not too many people will argue the point.
Another theory is that because the waters are becoming warmer, more predators have moved up north to feed on salmon smolts; many of which it is believed may be starving.
“Several Northwest Indian tribes and non-tribal fishermen in the state of Washington have been hurt by drastic declines in sockeye salmon runs and harvests that are so important to these communities,” said Secretary Gutierrez. “Our fisheries scientists continue to study the possible causes of this decline in an effort to find solutions.”
This is the second time that the Department of Commerce has found a fishery resource disaster in the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery. A similar determination was made in 2002. This commercial fishery failure is separate from the Klamath and West Coast salmon disaster determinations made in 2006 and 2008 for ocean salmon fisheries.
“NOAA’s Fisheries Service will continue to work with the tribes and the state of Washington to assess economic damage to the fishing communities and look for long-term solutions,” said Jim Balsiger, acting NOAA assistant administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service.