The AYK SSI Chinook Salmon Expert Panel presents the “AYK Chinook Salmon Research Action Plan.”
The AYK SSI Chinook Salmon Expert Panel has released its research blueprint addressing declined Western Alaska salmon populations entitled: “Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Chinook Salmon Research Action Plan: Evidence of Decline of Chinook Salmon Populations and Recommendations for Future Research.”
The Chinook Salmon Action Plan was developed by a thirteen-member panel of salmon scientists and was co-chaired by Daniel Schindler (Professor, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington) and Charles Krueger (Science Director, Great Lakes Fishery Commission). The panel’s diverse areas of expertise extended over the entire freshwater and marine life cycle phases of the salmon and it included scientists from two divisions within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, NOAA Fisheries, US Geological Survey, US Forest Service and several universities (Simon Fraser University, University of Michigan, and University of Washington).
The expert panel undertook a review and synthesis of available information that informed two components of the Action Plan:
- The first-ever compilation of evidence of the declines of the Chinook salmon stocks in the Yukon, Kuskokwim and Southern Norton Sound region
- Comparative analysis of the population dynamics of fifteen Chinook Salmon stocks from across the state, including four stocks from the AYK region.
- Identification of seven hypothesized stressors or drivers of the Chinook salmon declines (see full listing below)
Based on this analysis, the panel identified seven hypothesized stressors or drivers of the Chinook salmon declines, which are shown below linked to their respective phases of the salmon lifecycle (see full listing below).
For each of the seven possible drivers of decline, the Action Plan provides a description, discussion of the biological plausibility, a summary of the evidence available, and a set of research themes and questions to guide future research.
Structure of the Action Plan:
The content and structure of this report is as follows:
Section 1 provides and introduction to the plan, including the goals and objectives of the Action Plan, overview of the process used to develop the plan and a listing of the seven hypothesized drivers of decline.
Section 2 describes the process by which the research plan was developed, including details on the expert panel, hypotheses, review documents, and the synthesis workshop.
Section 3 explores the existing knowledge on the recent declines and variability of Chinook salmon stocks within the AYK region. The Yukon, Kuskokwim and Unalakleet rivers are examined in separate subsections. This section draws heavily upon the much more extensive report on the evidence of declines prepared by Spaeder and Catalano (2012).
Section 4 synthesizes some of the existing knowledge on the production dynamics of Alaska Chinook salmon populations outside of the AYK region, and contrasts them against the patterns observed within AYK Chinook salmon stocks.
Section 5 describes seven hypotheses identified by the expert panel that provide plausible explanations for the recent changes in AYK Chinook salmon abundance. The section provides for each hypothesis a description, discussion of the biological plausibility, a summary of the evidence available, and a set of research themes and questions to guide future research.
Section 6 provides the expert panel’s recommendations for research priorities based on the hypotheses, themes, and questions from Section 5.
“Improving our understanding the potential causes of the declines,” Dr. Schindler said, “is the critical first step. Without this understanding, we don’t know where or when human intervention can have the greatest benefit or, whether future changes are the result of natural variability or management actions.”
The key deliverable from this analysis and the centerpiece of the Action Plan is a set of detailed strategic research priorities aimed at advancing our understanding of the causes of the declines and, in turn, to support the rebuilding and sustainable management of AYK Chinook salmon stocks.
“As a data limited region,” Dr. Krueger said, “additional research is critical to advancing our understanding which of these drivers or variables have contributed most to the declines we have seen. We believe the priorities in Chinook Salmon Action Plan will provide an improved road-map to guide, inform, and encourage that critical research.”