There was a time when Alaska was known for an abundance of king salmon, a time marked by fishing nets teeming with thousands of the wriggling fish. But it's been years since good-sized populations of king salmon came swimming downriver, and even longer since Alaskan fishermen were able to make a living or feed their families with a harvest of native salmon.
There are several possible reasons for the widespread collapse of the Alaskan king salmon fishing industry. One possibility is rooted in global warming, which has caused cyclical temperature changes in nearby waters. Alaskan king salmon spawn on the shores of Alaska, but once their eggs hatch, the baby fish tend to head back out to sea. In fact, the average king salmon spends a significant percentage of its life living in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, where it grows and matures before returning to Alaska to spawn and start the cycle back over again.
Read this story on Lake Michigan's salmon population and the troubles it is facing.
It is possible that the downfall of the Alaskan king salmon is rooted in this unique spawning pattern. After all, the Pacific Ocean has been particularly affected by cyclical temperature changes, and while it is unlikely that the temperature shifts have had a direct impact on king salmon, they have probably led to a decrease in the food supplies that the Alaskan fish depend on - in turn bringing about a decline in Alaskan king salmon in general.
Another possible reason for the decline is also related to climate change, though that is not the only caused. Scientists theorize that ocean waters have become more acidic in recent years, and climate changes, offshore oil mining in the Bering Sea, and even over-fishing by Alaskan commercial fisheries could all be to blame.
For commercial fishermen in Alaska, the decline in the state's king salmon populations has been devastating. In many areas of the state, government officials have entirely banned the catching of Alaskan king salmon, hoping that without outside interference, the fish will be able to repopulate and pull themselves back from the brink of destruction. However, there is no question that the cutbacks in king salmon fishing have impacted Alaska from an economic standpoint.
The decline in Alaskan king salmon populations has also been a major issue for the state's native Inuit tribes, which value the cultural and tribal rituals of hunting and fishing above almost all else. Without king salmon, the fish that once served as one of the state's claims to fame, young Inuit generations are losing out on the experiences that defined their ancestors.
However, for as direct as the situation seems for Alaskan king salmon, it is also possible that the population decline is merely part of a natural cycle. Salmon population numbers and behaviors have largely followed different cycles in the past, and it is a definite possibility that the state is merely experience a low-end trend right now. As the years stretch on without a reprieve, though, this king salmon decline is beginning to look a lot more permanent, and that's nothing but bad news for Alaska.