Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Schindler: No Danger of Overpopulation of Bristol Bay Fish

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is disrupting economies all over the globe, many people are concerned that if the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery were to be canceled for health and safety reasons, it would prove extremely damaging to the fishery itself.

“Not so”, said Daniel Schindler, an ecologist in the College of the Environment at the University of Washington, and one of the core faculty with the UW Alaska Salmon Program.

Schindler said he understands that safety is a real concern in rural Alaska, where health facilities are extremely limited, and where people are present in high density during the fishery.

According to him, the discussion that needs to take place is the economic consequences versus health concerns, rather than overpopulation of fish, which is not a concern, but a distraction.

As of Tuesday, April 14, Alaska health officials had reported a total of 285 people statewide testing positive for the virus, of which 32 have been hospitalized, 98 recovered and nine died. Alaska, to date, has the lowest number of people confirmed positive for the virus of all 50 states.

“It is clear,” said Schindler, “that people should dismiss concerns about negative ecological impacts of exceptionally high escapements.”

Over-escapement is an industry term used to describe issues that may arise if too many fish are allowed to escape into river systems, resulting in competition between spawning adults and their offspring or resulting in the spread of fish diseases.

Schindler, who has done boots on the ground research in Bristol Bay fisheries for years, said Bristol Bay watersheds have shown that prevailing science does not support evidence of an ecological program that will result in future depression of the Bristol Bay wild salmon populations. No matter what happens in 2020, the fishery will be sustained, he said.

In years when there is high escapement into the river systems a lot of the fish don’t spawn, instead dying with their eggs in them, he said. A lot of those fish will be eaten by bears, eagles, gulls, ravens and all sorts of other birds.

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