Scientists have warned about the dangers of climate change to the world’s fisheries for years, and on Sunday, the Los Angeles Times covered at length some evidence that this is already happening: The Alaskan salmon fishery is under microscopic siege.
The problem: “Cold-temperature barriers are giving way, allowing parasites, bacteria and other disease-spreading organisms to move toward higher latitudes.” In Alaska, the Yukon River, where white spot disease or ich is prevalent, has warmed six to eight degrees in the last 30 years. As a scientist observes, “Parasites have their optimum conditions—upper and lower limits. We’ll notice where they show up but not necessarily where they disappear.”
First reported 20 years ago, but not widespread until recently, white spot disease now affects up to 30 percent of many king salmon catches. A University of Washington scientist who’s studying the disease, Richard Kocan, suspects that a significant proportion of fish are dying before they ever arrive at their spawning grounds. But after he came to that conclusion, the federal funding for his research suddenly evaporated: Apparently, Alaskan officials weren’t happy with his findings. “I’ve essentially been blackballed from working on the Yukon,” Kocan says.
As the Times notes, this story isn’t the typical image of Alaskan salmon, which live in a rare well-managed and abundant wild fishery. But no one was expecting Alaskan salmon to develop a disease so putrefying that when smoked, rather than becoming “rich red strips of salmon jerky, they turned black and oily like strips of greasy rotten mango.”