Skipper Science Partnership brings focus to Bristol Bay’s king salmon

A citizens scientist program works to find out why Nushagak king salmon numbers are dwindling.
Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 7:23 AM AKDT
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NUSHAGAK, Alaska (KTUU) - With king salmon numbers still low in the Bristol Bay area, the Skipper Science Partnership is bringing a new focus to tracking where king salmon are — and aren’t — in the Nushagak area.

The Skipper Science Partnership works through an app where commercial fishermen can volunteer to input data while out on the ocean for researchers to compile and use throughout the state.

The expansion will allow commercial fishermen and in-river test fishing boats to mark where they are catching king salmon in the area, and the data will be used to create a better understanding of where king salmon are migrating, and hopefully to get a better understanding of why they are shrinking and their numbers are dwindling.

“The question there is — is there a way to harvest sockeye while minimizing the pressure on kings?” Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association Executive Director Andy Wink said. “But in order to do that, we need data. We need to, you know, have information in order to inform that decision, and so that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Contributing fishermen will send in multiple data points including the type of gear they use, fishing effort, location, and count numbers for chum, sockeye, and king salmon.

“It’s not just, you know, if they caught something — it’s that they didn’t,” Indigenous Sentinels Network Coordinator Hannah-Marie Garcia said. “The zeros are really important.”

With the information it hopes to glean, the Skipper Science Partnership expects to learn what is happening to king salmon that is causing their numbers and size to decline.

“The more that we can learn about why that’s happening and where that’s happening, and what we can do to protect them, I think benefits, you know, this generation as well as future generations,” Wink said.

On top of this new expansion, the Skipper Science Partnership is currently planning similar projects across the state, which would be tailored to each community’s needs.

“We’re having conversations with other communities across the state, actually, including in areas in the northern Bering Sea, about what community-based monitoring can look like in their region, and more importantly, what research can benefit what they’re grappling with,” Garcia said.

The program relies on fishermen to contribute through the app, and while there are incentives such as raffles, those with the Skipper Science Partnership say it’s a good opportunity for those who volunteer to contribute to the knowledge base surrounding Alaska’s ocean waters.

“This program can be an excellent and easy opportunity for them to really share their voice and share their knowledge and expertise,” Garcia said.