Pacific Salmon: Ecology and Management of Western Alaska’s Populations

Historical Biomass of Pink, Chum, and Sockeye Salmon in the North Pacific Ocean

Douglas M. Eggers


Abstract.—Limits to the capacity of the North Pacific Ocean to support salmon are suggested based on widespread observations of decreasing size and increasing age of salmon at maturation during time periods where the abundance of salmon has increased throughout the North Pacific rim. The increase in abundance of salmon is partially due to successful establishment of large-scale hatchery runs of chum salmon Oncorhynchus keta and pink salmon O. gorbuscha. The largest hatchery runs are chum salmon, and because of their long life span relative to the more abundant pink salmon, the increase in hatchery terminal run biomass under-represents the actual increase in salmon biomass. To put the increase in hatchery runs in perspective, the historical (since 1925) terminal runs and biomass of hatchery and wild pink, chum, and sockeye salmon O. nerka in the North Pacific Ocean were reconstructed. Various data sets of smolt releases from hatcheries, wild salmon estimates of smolt out-migrants, and subsequent adult returns by age and size were assembled. Age-structured models were fit to these data sets to estimate brood-year specific rates of natural mortality, growth, and maturation. The rates were then used to reconstruct total biomass of the “smolt data” stocks. The estimated ratio of terminal runs to total biomass estimated for the “smolt data” stocks were used to expand the historical time series of terminal run biomass on a species and area basis. The present total biomass (~4 million mt) of sockeye, chum, and pink salmon in the North Pacific Ocean is at historically high levels and is ~3.4 times the low levels observed in the early1970s. At least 38% of the recent ten-year average North Pacific salmon biomass is attributed to hatchery stocks of chum and pink salmon. Recent year terminal run biomass has been greater than the peak levels observed during the mid 1930s.