Chum salmon, aka Keta or Dog salmon, are a vital species in the North Pacific who speak to us.
Are you listening.
They are one of the largest salmon rivaling the King salmon in size often growing to 15-20lbs.
They are one of the longest living of the salmon returning to spawn after 4-5 years after a life spent at sea grazing on their ocean pasture.
This past year, 2016, the return of Chum Salmon to the British Columbia coastal rivers was the largest is history, a salmon miracle. On the other side of the Pacific Japan’s chum salmon failed to survive on their dying ocean pasture and produced the smallest most catch in history, a salmon tragedy. These results are an effective ‘controlled’ study, one Chum ocean pasture restored = good news, one unrestored = bad news.
On being a Good Shepherd
“2016 Fraser River chum salmon return is estimated to be two million, the largest return on record,” said Lara Sloan of Fisheries and Oceans Canada in November of 2016.
“Catches in Johnstone Strait were some of the strongest on record. There have also been very strong returns of chum to the Nanaimo River.”
Sloan said the spawning target was met early, with a total catch estimated at 150,000.
Fishermen also reported an astonishing and unexpected bonanza of salmon. Gillnetter Shaun Strobel fishes the west coast of Vancouver Island, and down the Johnstone Strait to Nanaimo. “The fall net, or chum catch, is usually good”, he said. “But nothing like this.”
The fisheries experts were all totally off on this one.
At first the Chum salmon return was expected to be so low there was supposed to be a lottery for who got to fish commercially, but returns were so strong fishing was opened up in a free for all for everyone with no limits.
“Everybody was catching fish from the top of the straights up towards Alert Bay all the way down to Campbell River. We were catching fish everywhere,”
said Vancouver Island salmon fisherman Shaun Strobel, who described catches of fish weighing down boats and threatening to break or sink nets.
“We were all doing the best ever.”
“Although Fraser River sockeye numbers have hit a record low, Chum returning to the Fraser are doing extremely well,” wrote one fishing company’s general manager, Chris Kantowicz.
Kantowicz said the largest catch ever recorded in a Johnstone Strait chum salmon fishery took place Oct. 17 when one fleet pulled in 800,000 fish in a single day.
While fishermen are delighted the Federal Fisheries experts are saying they have no idea why the unexpected bonanza of Chum Salmon showed up so utterly against all of their usually reliable projections.
Hmmm… What might have happened with regard to the Chum Salmon last year.
Let’s examine their 4-5 year life cycle and see if there are any clues. Chum salmon, like all salmon lay their eggs in the gravel in freshwater rivers and streams in the fall of the year. Those eggs incubate over the winter and hatch in the early spring. The tiny Chum alevins emerge from their gravel incubators and are flushed/swim immediately to the ocean. Most Chum spawn quite low in river systems very close to the sea.
Chum are big salmon and they lay vast numbers of eggs, and the eggs are big, this means there are vast numbers of baby Chum hatching each year. No one knows the numbers of young Chum, smolts, that go to sea each spring surely the number is in the hundreds of millions.
Once in the ocean the young Chum salmon spend as little time in the near-shore coastal waters as possible as that is a region full of all manner of hungry sea-life that love nothing more than they do baby salmon. The salmon head out into the great North Pacific, the Gulf of Alaska promptly. There they are safer than in coastal waters as there are far fewer predators. But there they are also subject to the health of their ocean pasture where being primarily plankton feeders their survival depends on the condition of their ocean pasture. If the pasture is blooming in abundance then the survival rate of the baby Chum salmon is very high and they grow big and strong.
Mostly in recent decades the Chum salmon like so many salmon have a story of doom and gloom as they have simply not been returning from their ocean pastures. The ocean pastures of the North Pacific have been in a multi-decade history of worsening collapse and without a healthy ocean pasture the health and abundance of the ‘livestock’, aka salmon, the pasture can sustain have plummeted.
Our CO2 is Killing Ocean Pastures
Ocean pastures are in cataclysmic decline in the North Pacific and indeed in every ocean of the world. The reason is not about the usual suspects, those big bad villains the over fishing folks or climate change. The reason is just a little bit of bad behaviour of each of us, but there are a lot of us 7.4 billion and counting. Our CO2 emissions are killing ocean pastures in a very easy to understand manner.
CO2 is today high and rising in the global air, and that’s indisputable. Humanity has in all of our yesterday’s of the fossil fuel age already spewed about a trillion tonnes of Yesterday’s CO2 into the air. We’re busy now working on spewing another trillion tonnes of the noxious plant food into the air that’s Tomorrow’s CO2. That CO2 as we all know feeds plant life which powered by the sun and photosynthesis helps plants grow and spits back oxygen into the air. How great is that you say, we all need to breathe oxygen.
But here’s the problem for the oceans. This is a blue planet as 72% is oceans, of the remaining 28% it’s not all land as about half that 28% is ice and rock where nothing grows. Of the part where plants grow more than half is actually grass not trees. So what is happening is that as our CO2 is helping plants on land grow, and lets focus on the grass how can that harm the oceans.
Where plants on land live in mineral soil and live or die depending on whether nature delivers vital rain we all know that when the rain doesn’t fall the grass dies off, but when the rain does fall the grass grows green and bushier. Well CO2 gives plants the ability to survive with far less rain! Hence our present world’s high CO2 has resulted in a vast amount of extra grass growing, its called ‘global greening.’ You can read all about that on this blog.
OK Plants on land need rain but CO2 lets them grow better with less rain. Stick with me.
Plants in the ocean, you know the 72% of this planet that is blue, actually it is healthy when it is blue-green. Those plants live in water and what they need most is something that blows to them like the rain does for plants on pastures on land. Ocean pastures need dust in the wind. They have all the water they could ever use but they have no minerals.
Here’s the crux of the CO2 problem that grows more grass on land.
MORE GRASS GROWING MEANS LESS DUST BLOWING
Increasing grass, aka ground cover, is staring the ocean pastures to death due to loss of dust.
Back to our story of the miracle Chum Salmon abundance of 2016
Did something happen in the North Pacific Chum Salmon pastures that helped the baby Chum salmon that came back last year as adults? No mystery there!
In the summer of 2012 just when the gazillions of baby Chum Salmon went out to sea to begin their 4-5 years of grazing on their ocean pasture their pasture miraculously came back to life as a result of the greatest ocean pasture restoration project in the history of ocean and fisheries science. Proof of this is that the work of a scant dozen earnest shipmates, my crew, and our work to replenish vital mineral dust to the salmon pasture returned the largest salmon runs in history in perfect correlation with that work being ‘good shepherds’ for the ocean pasture.
Do the math for the Chum Salmon, just count from 2012-2013, that’s their 1st. year; 2013-2014, that’s 2 years, 2014-2015, that’s 3 years, and 2015-2016, that’s 4 years and the magic number for the Chum Salmon who are know for just that life-cycle! Chum Salmon miracle mystery solved, it was an intended miracle and it just worked.
Feeling skeptical? The miracle of the 2016 Chum salmon is not the only salmon miracle!
In 2013, the year following my Gulf of Alaska ocean pasture restoration work the Pink Salmon of Alaska made up an even greater salmon miracle. Pink Salmon are salmon that live for only two years. So let’s do the life cycle math. The Pink salmon that were eggs in the gravel of rivers and streams along the North American Pacific coast and hatched into baby salmon in the spring of 2012, like their cousins the Chum Salmon were swept and swam out to their vast ocean pasture that spring.
There instead of finding their ocean pasture was a desolate blue desert unable to sustain them they found it had been made into a restored Garden of Eden. Instead of mostly dying they grew and grew and before too long they swam back to their home rivers and streams healthy and strong. That swim home took place in the year 2013, remember Pinks live just 2 years so count em up the year 2012 is year one for the Pinks, the year 2013 is year two for the Pinks.
In Alaska in 2013 the fisheries experts were confident within 5%-10% certainty that the catch of Pink Salmon would be between 50-52 million of the silver beauties. The experts were dumbfounded when the fishers caught not 50 million Pinks but 226 million of the silver beauties more than 4 times the number expected, the largest catch of salmon in all of Alaskan history. All up and down the Pacific coast reports came in of very stream no matter how small in Pink Salmon territory being absolutely jammed with spawning Pink Salmon. Surely many hundreds of millions of additional Pinks.
Restore ocean fish pastures everywhere and bring back billions of fish, salmon, cod, tuna, mackerel, and more… enough fish to help end world hunger! And save the planet at a cost of mere millions neither billions nor trillions as the sales folk of climate change would have the world spend. Join me. Lend a hand. Offer some ideas.