The Milk vetch of the Fish World?

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Vincent J Brunasso
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The Milk vetch of the Fish World?

Post by Vincent J Brunasso » ... s/19626241

(Sept. 10) -- Call it a miracle of the fishes.

by David Knowles - writer

For the past three years, the sockeye salmon population plummeted in Canada's Fraser River. In 2009, the number of the red-skinned fish returning to spawn hit just 1.5 million, a 50-year low that seemed to portend the possible end to a way of life for local fisherman and cast doubt on the future of the sockeye itself.

"The single-season numbers were disconcerting," said Mike Lapointe, chief biologist for the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the group that tallies the population of sockeye salmon migrating in and out of the Fraser River each year. "But what really caught everyone's attention was the small amount of fish three years in a row."

Fishing grounds were closed, and Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, convened a hearing to try to understand the precipitous sockeye drop-off in British Columbia. Theories on the decline ranged from the effects of global warming to pollution to sea lice escaped from fish farms.

But then, not long after the inquiry got under way in August, the onslaught began. A veritable torrent of red began flooding the rivers of the western U.S. and Canada, Japan and Russia. In the Fraser, an estimated 34.5 million sockeye surged their way to the place of their birth in order to spawn, a level not seen since 1913. Fishermen, frustrated by three paltry seasons, were given the green light, and more than 10 million sockeye were caught before the Canadian government halted further fishing.

Lapointe, who monitors the incoming salmon as they approach the Pacific coast, was one of the first people to spot the staggering number of fish poised to return to the spawning ground. "What really caught us off guard was the fluctuation," Lapointe told AOL News. "We went from very low rates of return to a very high one. We need to better understand why this happened."

As Lapointe explains, a daunting number of variables determines how many sockeye will return to spawn, and that's one reason Harper initiated the Cohen Commission to help figure out why the 2007-2009 seasons were so dismal.

A single sockeye can lay as many as 4,000 eggs. Of those that hatch and become minnows, roughly 50 to 60 per 1,000 make it out of a lake or stream and are able to swim down the Fraser and out to sea after one or two years of life. After entering the Pacific, the fish live and forage for food for the next couple of years, traveling as far afield as the Gulf of Alaska.

Survival rates for the salmon in open ocean vary from year to year, but on average, just 8 percent of those that make it to the ocean are still alive when it is time to return to fresh water. Then, heeding their biological instincts, their bodies suddenly change color, from bluish green to bright red, and the salmon begin the trek back to the place they were born.

"But there is variability as to when the fish decide to go back," Lapointe said. In other words, not every fish decides to go home again when it is 4 years old, the average lifespan of the sockeye. Some seem to come back because of favorable water conditions. "There's also a lot we just don't know," Lapointe said.

Among the unknowns is what accounts for 2010's unexpectedly high survival rate of salmon coming back from their time in the ocean, which was estimated to be 25 percent.

Some Canadians believe that the Cohen Commission should refocus its efforts in light of this year's bumper crop.

"For too long, we seem to have been fed a bunch of lies, or at least half-truths, about the salmon-farming issue," Jon Ferry, a columnist at The Province, wrote this week. "The science surrounding it is not settled, not by a long way. Pretending it is won't make it so."

Local fishermen, too, were outraged that the season was cut short despite an abundance of sockeye still navigating the Fraser. But Lapointe cautions that even though the 2010 return is impressive, it doesn't mean that subsequent years will prove as fruitful.

"There could be a big drop next year. We could see only 3 to 5 million sockeye," Lapointe said, adding that 80 percent of this year's returning fish came from the Shuswap, just one of the Fraser's many lake systems. "There could be a big food shortage when the eggs from all these fish start hatching, resulting in a massive die-off."

For now, however, the sight of so many red fish filling the Fraser has lifted the spirits of environmentalists and commercial fishermen alike. For those looking to witness the spectacle firsthand, Lapointe recommends heading to the Adams River, a tributary that links the Shuswap lake system and the Fraser, around early October.

"It should be a sea of red from bank to bank," Lapointe said. "And that's a quite a thing to see."
Vincent J. Brunasso
ASA Co-Founder and past president

“My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”
--Thomas Jefferson

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Re: The Milk vetch of the Fish World?

Post by HSSC »

I remember a trip to the Superstition Mountains south of our trailer park spot in Mikes Trailer Park/Store in Ocotillo Wells in the late sixties and the desert was alive with plants, flowers, butterflies and gourds. I was riding in the back seat of my parents 36 horse vw dunebuggy. :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: And it was, and that is a moment that will live with me until I will support some of that green stuff. :shock:
Public lands are for public use.
Ken & family
Mt. Rose HWY,Reno NV.


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