OUTDOORS: NOAA researchers seeking clues on salmon survival

RESEARCHERS WITH THE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have set out for the Gulf of Alaska to determine what influences whether Pacific salmon stocks live or die.

These scientists will try to uncover details of what NOAA calls “perhaps the most critical, but least known, part of the salmon life cycle is the few years the fish spend on the high seas, gaining energy to return to their home rivers and spawn.”

Our state’s chinook and coho stocks travel north to Alaskan waters each year, but the majority never return to their native streams — NOAA’s rough estimate is 99 out of 100 salmon don’t come home to spawn.

NOAA scientists have long suspected that the fate of salmon migrating into the ocean is sealed during their first year at sea with bigger, faster salmon better able to elude predators and make it through the first winter — when most mortality occurs — to return to rivers to spawn.

The ship will spend a month traversing the Gulf of Alaska with trawl nets, examining the salmon they catch with tools that range from microscopes to DNA fingerprinting.

Fisheries biologists Charlie Waters and Gerard Foley from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center will be collecting samples for several studies to learn more about salmon condition and diet. In particular, they want to learn more about what pinks are eating and whether they are in competition with sockeye, chinook and coho for prey resources.

The research should aid in forecasting salmon returns.

To track the voyage’s progress, visit yearofthesalmon.org/gulf-of-alaska-expedition.

Fish out of water

A University of Idaho study provides evidence that the practice by anglers of holding a fish out of water before releasing it has no impact on the fish’s survival or its ability to produce offspring, according to a university news release.

In the study, published in January’s North American Journal of Fisheries Management, researchers from the college and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game caught more than 2,200 cutthroat trout over two years in a tributary of the South Fork of the Snake River.

“We chose salmonids for this study because they have lower tolerance of hypoxia — of being without oxygen. In theory, they would be the most likely to show an effect,” said Curtis Roth, lead author of the study who is now a fisheries biologist with Idaho Fish and Game.

The researchers tagged the fish in the spring with tracking devices, took genetic samples, simulated angling and left some fish in the river while holding others out of the water for 30 and 60 seconds. The fish were then tracked to monitor their survival rates. The researchers returned to the same area in autumn to trap their offspring and determine the parentage of each fish through genetic analysis.

“We found that air exposure had no effect on short- or long-term survival, and no effect on reproductive success,” said Michael Quist, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor of fisheries management in U of I’s College of Natural Resources.

Roth said the time intervals were chosen because they were consistent with how long anglers keep fish out of the water.

An earlier study by Idaho researchers published in January 2018 in the journal Fisheries Research found more than 99 percent of anglers keep fish out of water for less than 60 seconds.

The average was less than 20 seconds.

Spring bear deadline

Hunters must purchase and submit their 2019 spring black bear special hunt applications by midnight Thursday. Hunts will occur in specific areas of western and eastern Washington.

Hunters who submit their applications are entered into a drawing in mid-March for 272 permits in western Washington and 509 permits for hunts east of the Cascade Range.

Fish and Wildlife will notify winners no later than March 31.

Applicants can also check the drawing results through the WILD system by logging into their account at fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov.

To apply for a permit, hunters must purchase a special hunt application and a 2019 hunting license that includes black bear as a species option. Additionally, hunters must identify their hunt area choice by indicating the number associated with the hunt area. Hunting licenses, bear transport tags, and bear permit applications may be purchased: online at fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, by calling 866-246-9453, or at any license vendor.

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