NPAFC Plans 2021 Pan Pacific High Seas Research Expedition

The North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) member countries plan to conduct coastal and high seas salmon surveys during the spring, summer and fall of 2020-2021.

NPAFC in Vancouver, British Columbia, is preparing for a 2021 expedition, to run in conjunction with the 2021 winter surveys, that would include three or four vessels to cover a pan-Pacific grid. An additional ship would conduct fine scale research to provide greater detail to help understand how salmon interact in the high sea environment.

At the present time national requests for vessels are being considered by Canada, the United States, Russia, Japan and Korea.

During the last NPAFC meeting held in October in Victoria, British Columbia, the commission received substantial funding from the British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund. A total of $3.3 million allocated over three years will support this project.

Building on a single vessel expedition in February and March of 2019 in the Gulf of Alaska, the 2021 expedition will employ up to five research vessels operating simultaneously to survey the full breadth of the North Pacific Ocean. The expedition will provide a platform for international collaborative ecosystem research to monitor the distribution, abundance and productivity of salmon, to inform fisheries managers and enforcement decisions to be made in the future.

Earlier this year, 21 scientists from the five Pacific Rim nations aboard a chartered Russian research vessel completed the International Gulf of Alaska Expedition 2019. The expedition was the first in decades to study salmon in winter high seas, and NPAFC said it set a precedent for addressing knowledge gaps through survey work of salmon, plankton and physical conditions in the central Gulf of Alaska.

During the 2019 expedition all five species of salmon were caught. Distributions of each species in the Gulf of Alaska differed and showed preferences for particular regions associated with ocean features such as higher or lower temperatures or types of prey.

Most surprising, said NPAFC, was the presence of coho salmon in the high seas, give that they are thought to be coastal in distribution, and the presence of North American sockeye in the small set of western North Pacific samples. Chum salmon of Asian and North American origin mingled in the survey area.

Sampling of micro-plastics in open ocean of the Northeast Pacific indicated that their level has not increased since the collection of baseline samples in the 1980s.