Pacific Northwest Salmon

Study Reveals Decline in Pacific Northwest Salmon Population


Non-profit organization ‘Long Live the Kings’ is investigating the startling downfall of salmon population in Pacific Northwest recently. Salmon species are critical for maintaining biodiversity; yet, it is unknown what is causing the rapid decline in genetic diversity and population. The Salish Sea Marine Survival project has undertaken the task of tracking migration of marine species and determining the cause of decline in salmon population.

Researchers state that salmon is important for the maintenance of Northwest economy and culture. Northwest is known for its green forests and clear, blue sea waters, with salmon being the highlight of the region. Salmon has been identified as crucial to maintaining economic growth and for successful cultural integration.

The salmon population in the Northwest has been on a decline since 1980s. Currently, over 80 studies and 200 experts are trying to seek answers for the cause of decline in salmon population. Experts are looking into factors such as predatory behaviors, ocean contamination, threats to habitat and prey availability. Furthermore, researchers are working on a sophisticated, high-tech ecosystem model – Puget Sound – to solve the case. The model would be completed by next year. Experts would enter details into the database, which would then reveal a map that would guide them to solutions.

According to Schimidt, one of the answers could be found by dissecting salmon. By investigating the stomach, experts investigate what the salmon is consuming. Furthermore, they are also looking into excretion material of potential predators, such as seals, to determine whether they have been eating salmon, at what rate and what role they play in affecting the population decline.

Seals could be responsible for the population decline of salmon since the increase in man-built infrastructure on sea water, which directed seals into pathways of salmon migration. Development projects such as Hood Canal Bridge and Ballard Locks have diverted seals to the pathway of salmon, where their presence is unusual. Furthermore, conservation and fisheries’ trade-offs could play a role in population reduction.

Long Live the Kings is on board to investigate the reduction so that future generations could still consider salmon as a cultural icon, not species of the past. The organization is also conducting STEM classroom sessions for students to raise awareness about importance of salmon and what makes it vital to Northwest’s sustainability. The food chain is also affected if salmon goes extinct, particularly orcas.

Chinook salmon is native to Pacific Northwest, which also houses major fisheries and tribal cultural traditions. A study revealed that two-thirds of the salmon population has already been lost during the past 7,000 years. Since salmon are part of the food chain, the loss of species would also threaten the ecosystem and raise difficulties for other species to adapt to climate change and ocean acidification. Global warming and the ever-rising carbon dioxide component in the ocean are increasingly threatening the survival of marine species.

Experts collaborated with Native American tribes to obtain access to 7000-year old salmon bones and debris. In 346 samples, mitochondrial DNA, which can be easily obtained from archaeological sites, was examined and compared with present samples of 379 Chinook salmon. Experts measured the degree to which DNA varied to ascertain lineages in species. The modern diversity of species was then compared to past lineages.

The study attributed the decline of salmon population to overfishing, habitat loss and infrastructure development projects in the Columbia River Basin. To increase the salmon population, millions of salmon are released every year from hatcheries into the coastal waters. An expert suggested that the climate change could be happening at a faster rate than the ability of the salmon to adapt.

Genetic diversity plays a significant role in enabling species to keep up with rapidly changing environmental conditions.  In the case of salmon, certain individuals may possess DNA that enables them to adapt to global warming and fight disease. Loss of diversity imposes a genetic strain on the food chain and survival of species. Data shows that between 1880s and 1920s, 11 million kilograms of Chinook salmon could be harvested every year; the figure has now plummeted to 2 million kilograms every year today. The fish released from hatcheries are identical to wild salmon species. The factors causing the decline of wild species include loss of diversity, agricultural projects and destruction of stream habitats. The construction of dams has prevented salmon from reaching their habitat.

The report also showed that there was rich genetic diversity prior to the arrival of Europeans. Nevertheless, there are no conclusive results to justify decline of salmon population. Native Americans have fished for salmon for thousands of years near waterfalls and bottlenecks. Europeans arrived in 1860s, established commercial fisheries and harvested over 24 million pounds of Chinook annually, which fell to 15 million pounds per year by 1950s. The dams built in 1941 prevented salmon for 1,000 to the upper river. 

Biodiversity is crucial to the survival of species and create a stable future for human beings. all living organisms – marine species, plantations and animals are part of the food chain that is necessary to ensure a sustainable future for human beings. Biodiversity conservation is important to maintain a balance in the ecosystem and enable adaptability of species to changing climate conditions. We have been losing species due to global warming, ocean acidification, pollution and habitat loss, which in turn threaten the survival of humans. A sustainable ecosystem plays a vital role in provision of breathable air, medicines, biological resources, food and wellbeing.  A dearth of these resources is bound to create shortages, scarcity and crises.

Today, human beings are accountable for loss of biodiversity. Species have already gone extinct and continue to be endangered. Experts predict that nearly 30 percent of species would go extinct by 2050; 25 percent mammals may die out within 20 years and one-third of global species are already threatened. Destruction of one element in the ecosystem disrupts the entire balance. If we disrupt the natural balance, we would be losing out. The threat to species would in turn only threaten our survival. 

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