Is it a coincidence that one of the largest mineral deposits in the world is near the world’s largest sockeye salmon spawning grounds in Bristol Bay? And if mines like Pebble removed most of those deep deposits that also create the global magnetic field, could that disrupt the salmon’s ability to find their way home?
A study funded by Arron Kallenberg of Homer – founder and CEO of Wild Alaskan Co. and third-generation Bristol Bay fisherman – aims to find out.
“It hasn’t even been 10 years since we discovered that salmon, sea turtles and other marine species use the Earth’s magnetic field to learn where they are and make important navigational decisions. But what is the magnetic environment they need to thrive, and what could humans be doing that might prevent them from thriving? said Dr. Nathan Putman, senior scientist at Texas-based LGL Ecological Research Associates and an expert in animals’ use of magnetic fields during migration, who is leading the study.
“Bristol Bay salmon taps into thousands of years of experience,” Putman said. “Can the removal of magnetic minerals alter the magnetic landscape they experienced, and to what extent?” He asked.
The combinations of magnetic field strength and angles give the salmon an idea of where it is, he explained.
“For example, if a fish has left its river and finds itself in a stronger magnetic field than when it left, it has a good chance of being further north of the river. And if it’s in a weaker magnetic field, it’s likely to be further south. It can use this information to decide which direction to take, depending on whether it’s headed to its foraging areas or if it’s matured and it’s time to head home.
Putman’s previous studies of roses found that salmon have versatile navigational tools.
“What is practical with the magnetic field is that it is both a compass and a map. A compass alone only gives you one direction. Earth’s magnetic field gives you that direction, but for salmon it also gives an idea of where they are in the Bering Sea or the Gulf of Alaska. It’s sort of both a compass and a GPS,” he explained.
Putman said it’s easy to manipulate magnetic environments in the lab.
“We call them magnetic displacement experiments,” he said. “And they work pretty well. Salmon seem to know how to direct their movements when they grow up in a pristine magnetic rearing environment. But if you add something as simple as an iron pipe nearby, it distorts the field. Then you have the same family of fish, the same configuration, the same type of behavioral tests and they don’t seem able to use the magnetic field to make navigational decisions.
For the Bristol Bay project, Putman is using a high-resolution magnetic model for 304,000 latitude/longitude points over the past 20 years, examining the impact of mining activity on local geomagnetic field fluctuations. By comparing the rate of change in the geomagnetic field near mine sites to the baseline background variability, it can identify the potential impacts of mining on variations in the field.
“I think it really compels us as humans to ask ourselves how we are changing the magnetic environment around salmon, whether it’s because of mining or electrical cables that cross or cross streams. How might we present salmon or other species with challenges related to how we manipulate their habitats is where we are going with this project.
Putman’s results should be known by this summer when the sockeye run returns to Bristol Bay.
Want to know where most anglers live in Alaska? Or where are most Alaskan fishing boats homeported?
United Fishermen of Alaska has just released its updated fishing facts for every region of Alaska, plus the West Coast. Facts are updated to 2018, the most recent full year available.
At a glance, they show that nearly 8,700 license holders fished in 2018, of which 6,055 were Alaska residents. Over 21,341 crew licenses were purchased, split almost evenly between residents and non-residents.
Alaska’s seafood industry employed nearly 59,000 direct jobs, more than any other private sector. Over $172 million in fishing taxes were collected, of which $73 million went to state coffers and $51 million to local governments.
Homer is home to 615 fishing boats and nearly 20% of its fishing population, earning $69 million from the docks in 2018.
A total of 636 vessels called Kodiak Island home with 1,074 resident fishermen, or 17.3% of the population, earning $105 million. Kodiak claims 15 processing facilities, from moms and pops to majors.
In Petersburg, almost 24% of the population fishes for a living on 620 home port boats. Their earnings were set at $50.5 million.
Only nine license holders fished in Dutch Harbor/Unalaska, but its eight major processing plants helped generate $8.2 million in fishing taxes for both the region and the state.
Just over 6,000 Washington residents plus crew fished in Alaska in 2018. Of the total harvest of 5.7 billion pounds, 4 billion pounds were taken by Washington residents. Of the $1.94 billion dockside value, Washingtonians pocketed $900 million.
Fishing facts include regional fishing, processing jobs and wages, fishing tax revenues and legislative constituencies.
Big fish movements
The 30 coastal communities that make up the Coastal Villages Region Fund and the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. acquired Seattle-based Mariner Companies, majority owned by Kevin Kaldestad and Gordon Kristjanson. The purchase comes with 3% quota for Bering Sea snow crab and red king crab, as well as seven crabbers.
In a statement, the new company said it would sell the crab quota, valued at $35 million, to communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and Bristol Bay regions and provide economic support through fishing operations.
Additionally, Peter Pan Seafoods announced that it is now a US-owned vertically integrated seafood processor. The company had been owned since 1950 by Maruha Nichiro of Japan.
The new ownership group includes Northwest Fish Co.’s Rodger May, the Na’-Nuk investment fund managed by McKinley Capital and the RRG Global Partners fund.
The new Peter Pan will continue to operate facilities in Dillingham, King Cove, Port Moller and Valdez, with headquarters in Bellevue, Washington.
Tips for the Fish Trade
Anglers have up to January 15 to request federal funds to mitigate the effects of trade tariffs on the market.
The US Department of Agriculture will distribute a total of $530 million to fishermen based on their 2019 catches of 19 species under the Seafood Trade Relief Program.
Damage to fishermen is calculated as the difference with commercial rates and the baseline without them. For cod, that’s an extra 14 cents a pound. Salmon fishermen get 19 cents more a pound.
Other Alaskan species include Dungeness crab, king crab, snow crab and tanners, geoducks, sablefish, herring, pollock, plaice, mackerel, perch, and turbot.
The fisherman must complete a 2020 STRP application, available on farmers.gov and from USDA agricultural service agencies. There are three agencies in Alaska in Homer, Kenai and Palmer.
Joint Fish and Game meeting on COVID-19 issues
The Alaska Board of Fisheries and Board of Game will convene a web conference on January 19 to discuss current COVID-19 conditions and its impacts on upcoming meetings.
Tentative topics include holding some or all meetings via the web, or whether meetings should be postponed until the 2021-22 meeting cycle and what the impacts might be.
This is a non-regulatory meeting and no evidence will be taken.
Written comments can be submitted until January 15; comments already submitted will be included and do not need to be resubmitted. Comments can be entered online or emailed to [email protected]
The meeting will be streamed live on the Joint Council website. Questions? Contact the Board Support Section at 907-465-4110.
But it’s over
Halibut catch limits for 2021 will be revealed on January 29, the last day of the international Pacific halibut meetings, which will meet virtually from January 25.
A preliminary review of the 2020 fishery shows a total catch for the United States and British Columbia at 35.7 million pounds, down 11% from 2019.
Sixty-three percent was caught in commercial fisheries (22.3 million pounds). Alaskan fishermen caught nearly 16 million pounds, 7% below the catch limit.
Recreational fishing caught 17% (6 million pounds); 3% went to both subsistence and surveys/research (£1m each).
Over 5 million pounds of halibut were caught as bycatch in other fisheries.
Homer had the biggest share of Pacific halibut landings at 18% (3 million pounds), followed by Dutch Harbor and Kodiak. Juneau at 1.3 million pounds narrowly edged out Sitka for total commercial halibut landings.