Alaska’s salmon are shrinking, and climate change may be to blame

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – Alaska’s highly prized salmon – a favorite of seafood lovers the world over – are getting smaller, and climate change is a suspected culprit, a new study reported, documenting a trend that may pose a risk to a valuable fishery, indigenous people and wildlife.

The study, led by University of Alaska at Fairbanks (UAF) scientists, found that four of Alaska’s five wild salmon species have shrunk in average fish size over the past six decades, with stunted growth becoming more pronounced since 2010.

Hardest hit is Alaska’s official state fish, the Chinook salmon, also known as king salmon.

Chinooks on average are 8 percent smaller than they were before 1990, according to the study, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications. Also shrinking are Alaska’s sockeye, coho and chum salmon, the report said. The findings are based on data from 12.5 million samples collected over six decades.

The study confirms first-hand anecdotal accounts from Alaskans with generations of salmon tradition, said co-author Peter Westley of UAF’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences

“People are walking into their smokehouses and not having to duck anymore,” he said. “The fish are just smaller. ”

Warmer seas attributed to climate change and increased competition among all species of salmon are the likeliest factors behind the fish shrinkage, he said.

Salmon are maturing in the ocean at earlier ages and returning to fresh water younger and smaller than in the past, the study found.

In waterways like the Yukon River, famous for its Chinooks, the “really big whoppers” that spend seven or eight years in the ocean are no longer seen, Westley said. Instead, many returning Chinooks are only four years old, he said.

Alaska produces nearly all of the nation’s wild salmon. Last year, commercial fishermen harvested over 206 million salmon and sold them for $657.6 million, according to state officials. Salmon are also a dietary staple for some indigenous people of Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory.

The red-fleshed fish are also eaten by Alaska’s bears and other wildlife. Smaller fish mean fewer nutrients for those animals – and fewer salmon eggs, which can have long-term consequences for wildlife that feed on them, said UAF’s Krista Oke, the study’s lead author.

“It is impacting things that eat eggs, but it also impacts the salmon population itself,” Oke said.

The findings show the need to manage salmon not just for the size of their runs but for the size of individual fish, Westley said. “If you lose the diversity of fish and only have small fish, then you’re in troubled waters,” he said.

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage, Alaska; Editing by Steve Gorman and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

‘Nature welcomes the change’: with no tourists, wildlife roams California’s Yosemite

(Reuters) – A bear ambles across a forest glade and a herd of deer stroll down a silent road. At Yosemite National Park in Northern California, coronavirus restrictions mean no tourists – and bolder wildlife.

“It’s very quiet right now at the park,” Yosemite Conservancy President Frank Dean said in an interview.

“It’s an amazing scene where you hear the natural sounds of the river, wildlife and the birds. The wildlife is getting a little bit bolder now because there are few people around.”

Yosemite, one of the best-known national parks in the United States, has been closed to all except a few employees and local residents since March 20, in response to the public health emergency triggered by the coronavirus.

The park, famed for its waterfalls and giant sequoia trees, normally attracts over 3 million visitors a year, most of whom arrive between April and October.

“We are trying to anticipate and plan how the park will be when it reopens, because, you know, it won’t be business as usual this summer,” said Dean, whose nonprofit organization protects the park and runs services for visitors.

Dean added that he expected visitor patterns to be different once it does reopen – people may be reluctant to visit the restaurant or visitor center, for instance.

In the meantime, the wildlife is having a ball.

“I think nature is obviously welcoming the change,” said Dean. Bears, coming out of hibernation, were being seen more frequently as they were less secretive and felt more comfortable, he said.

Coyotes were the most noticeable change, said Dean.

“They are out in the daytime now and they’re not afraid. I mean, they’re just sort of walking by people and walking around, among buildings.”

(Reporting by Norma Galeana in Los Angeles; Writing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Major Oil Find in Israel but Quality and Cost of Extraction Unknown

Israel is surrounded by countries loaded with oil bearing land. To find a sufficient amount of oil could mean a huge boost for her young oil production industry.

A company drilling for oil on the Golan Heights, close to the country’s border with Syria , claims they have found a significant amount of oil reserves. What they found looks to be 10 times larger than the average oil field worldwide.  This could  boost support of domestic demand but the quality, quantity and the cost involved for extraction is not known at this time.

Three drilling sites on the Golan have uncovered what is potentially billions of barrels of oil, enough to fulfill the Israeli market’s 270,000-barrel-per-day consumption for a very long time.

Chief geologist of Afek Oil and Gas, Yuval Bartov, said, “It’s a fantastic feeling. We came here thinking maybe yes or maybe no and now things are really happening!”

Since Israel’s founding, companies have drilled 530 exploratory wells in search for oil, but few of them have turned up commercially viable product, the Times of Israel reported

This find, however is already shadowed by the concerns regarding the war in Syria and the cost involved to protect the oil fields, domestic concerns as to the legality of Israel’s right to Golan Heights, as well as an ongoing struggle with environmental groups concerned over the effects the drilling will have on the land and the wildlife found there.  

The main site is close to the small town of Katzrin, which lies northeast of the northern shore of the fabled Sea of Galilee and is home to a wide range of special plants and wild animals, including major nature reserves such as Gamla, home to Israel’s largest population of Griffon vultures.