The expedition, the first in decades to study salmon on the high seas, returned to Vancouver, B.C., on March 18, aboard the chartered Russian research vessel Professor Kaganovskiy.
The team of 21 scientists from Japan, Korea, Russia, the United States and Canada said they were surprised to find that the second most abundant species of salmon in their catch was coho. The scientists believed that coho salmon stay in coastal areas in the winter, but they were found thousands of kilometers away from the coast in the open ocean. They determined, using ground breaking DNA technology, that these cohos are from rivers ranging from the Puget Sound to northern British Columbia.
The scientific team was also surprised that pink salmon, the most abundant of all Pacific salmon, composed only 10 percent of their catches. Humpies are supposed to be particularly dominant in odd years, which made their absence especially notable. NPAFC officials said the researchers have returned with thousands of samples that will be analyzed over the coming months.
The Gulf of Alaska expedition had two major objectives, according to expedition organizer Dick Beamish, an emeritus scientist of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The first was to carry out new research designed to identify the mechanisms that regulate the abundance of salmon. The second was to assemble a team of international researchers who would use the experience of the Russian captain and crew to show that important discoveries can best be made through international cooperation.
“It will take some time to measure the success of our objective relating to mechanisms, but we have clear evidence that an international team of scientists is an excellent way to make the discoveries needed to ensure a future of responsible stewardship,” Beamish said.
The $1.3 million project is jointly funded by a combination of government, industry, non-government organizations and private contributions. Donors include the Pacific Salmon Foundation, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association, Harmac Pacific, Pacific Salmon Commission, the Province of British Columbia, Ross Beaty (Sitka Foundation) and British Columbia businessman Tony Allard NPAFC is an international organization based in Vancouver, B.C. that promotes the conservation of Pacific salmon and steelhead trout in the North Pacific, and its adjacent seas.