Salmon Rivers Face Dire Times


On occasion, salmon leap upward against the currents of uphill waterfalls, and this event is known as a salmon run. Designated rivers where these events take place, salmon rivers, are now facing dire times on both sides of the US, in Alaska and New York. The impending disaster in Alaska centers around the building of a dam along the Susitna river. In NY, the salmon are reported to be suffering from a vitamin deficiency.

In AK, there is concern that the Watana dam would not only hinder the salmon river, but could effectively ruin the entire ecosystem for the resident aquatic creatures in the area. Jack Stanford, Ph.D., with Alaska Dispatch News, wholeheartedly agreed that the specific ecology would be ruined if the dam is completed. He mentioned that the seasonal flooding, riverside vegetation, and cold temperatures that they have adapted to will inevitably be impacted by the dam.

Dams that utilize hydropower always greatly lower salmon productivity because they inhibit the natural patterns they require. They cannot hatch, grow or spawn properly in accordance to time their out-migration to sea. With resources and their habitats facing destruction, one would think of relocation, but that is sadly not an option. Alaska is the nation’s last and largest environment where wild salmon reside, but with heavy amounts of fishing and severe climate changes, the Susitna river is one of the last places where the species thrives.

Dr. Stanford is fighting tooth and nail against the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) to ensure the aquatic creatures have a home to perform the run next year and many more after. However, dams are not the only dire threat to the survival of salmon rivers in these times. The vitamin deficiency in Oswego County has the resident biologists scrambling for options.

The steelhead trout that are returning Oswego’s salmon river have been examined and the mortality rate has grown at an alarming rate. Normally, the trout are prized catches for fisherman while they reside in Lake Ontario, but the real issue lies in their thiamine deficiencies. Thiamine, or vitamin B, has been a staple lacking in the steelheads’ diet for nearly two months. Fisherman reported the initial evidence to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

While unconfirmed, the reason behind the lack of thiamine is due to alewife, a baitfish in Ontario, as well as another staple of the steelhead diet. After being consumed, the alewife infuse an enzyme called thiaminase into the trout. Thiaminase targets all the vitamin B in their bodies and then breaks it down. While the mortality rate and the thiamine reduction may not be related, the DEC have taken action.

In order to keep the salmon river alive through this dire time, the DEC and state fishery managers have started manually injecting the fish with appropriate doses of vitamin B so that the salmon run does not drop off the face of the earth. Joe Martens, DEC commissioner, said that they will cooperate with federal agencies, Cornell University to identify a cause to the trouts’ deaths and to ensure that they cease. At the same time, the DEC will house the returning steelheads in an outdoor hatchery to improve breeding amongst the species for 2015.

By Matthew Austin Bowers

Alaska Dispatch News
The Washington Times

Photo by Seattle.roamer – Flickr License

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