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Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)


Chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) are the most widely distributed Pacific Salmon species and can be found throughout Alaska. They range along the east and west coasts of the North Pacific Ocean, from the Mackenzie and Anderson Rivers in Canada to the Lena River in Russia.

Chums are often called dog salmon, but experts disagree about the origin of this nickname. Some believe chums are called dogs because, in the Arctic, Northwestern, and Interior parts of Alaska, chums were and still are traditionally dried and used as a winter food supply for both humans and dogs. Others argue they are called dog salmon because of the enlarged “canine” teeth the males develop during the spawning season.

Chum salmon are the second-largest Pacific Salmon species. Only Chinook (King Salmon) grow bigger. An average adult chum salmon weighs between 8 and 15 lbs. (3.6 to 6.8 kg), but they can grow as large as 45lbs. (20 kg). During their marine phase, chums are dark metallic blue on the back and silver on the sides and belly. Tiny dark specks may be present, but chums do not have large spots like those on Chinook, coho, and pink salmon. The tail of a chum salmon is highly forked, lacks spots, and has silver streaks along the fin rays.

When chums enter fresh water on the return to their spawning streams, males darken to what is often described as a calico pattern. They turn a dark olive brown and have red to purple, wavy, vertical stripes. They also develop hooked jaws called a kype lined with large, sharp teeth. Females turn brown and have a dark, thick, horizontal bar running along the lateral line. Females also develop a hooked jaw with large teeth, but the jaw is less pronounced than it is in males.

There are two, distinct races of chum salmon that spawn at different times. Summer chums spawn in early to mid-summer, and fall chums, as their name suggests, spawn later in the autumn. Chum salmon usually spawn at the mouth or in the lower sections of a stream or river, but in large river systems, they may travel as far as 2000 miles (3219 km) upriver to spawn.

When spawning, a female chum digs a nest in the gravel of the streambed. She then deposits her eggs in the nest while one or more males release sperm to fertilize the eggs. The female may dig more nests upstream from the first nest, depositing her eggs in the nests until her eggs are gone. A group of nests is called a redd, and a female guards her redd until she becomes weak and dies.

Chum salmon eggs hatch after three to four months. The alevin that emerges from the egg remains in the gravel, receiving nutrients from its yolk sac for 60 to 90 days. When it emerges, a chum salmon fry is dark greenish-brown on the back and iridescent green below the lateral line. It also has 8-12 vertical, spaced parr marks on the upper half of its body, not extending below the lateral line.

Fry begin migrating downstream to the ocean within a few days to a few weeks after emergence when they are only one to two inches long. Young chums spend several months near shore before traveling to the open ocean. They stay in the ocean three to four years where they grow to a size of 8 to 15 lbs. (3.6-6.8 kg) or larger. They grow the fastest during their last year in the ocean. Like other Pacific Salmon, chums return to spawn in the stream or river where they were born, and after spawning, they die.

Juvenile chum salmon eat crustaceans, insects, and young herring. Adults feed on copepods, tunicates, mollusks, and fish. When adults return to fresh water to spawn, they stop eating, and their digestive tract deteriorates.

Chum salmon rank second to pink salmon in average annual catch in Alaska’s commercial fishery. Chum-salmon meat is commercially the least valued of the salmon species, and commercial fishermen are paid less or the same for chums as they are for pink salmon. Chum-salmon eggs, though, are the largest and most valuable of any salmon eggs and are sold in Japan as ikura salmon caviar. Chums are not usually targeted by sports anglers because they rarely aggressively attack a lure.

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Is a serial killer stalking women on Kodiak Island? My novel,  The Fisherman’s Daughter, is available for pre-order!


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Pre-Order The Fisherman’s Daughter

 

I am thrilled to announce the e-book of my new novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter is now available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online booksellers. Here is a short synopsis of the novel:

Seventeen-year-old Deanna Kerr fights to start her outboard engine as storm-tossed waves fill her boat with water. Panicked and crying, relief spreads through Deanna when a boat approaches her. She believes she is about to be rescued. Four months later, Deanna’s bones are found in a pile of kelp on the beach. Her ankles are wired together, and her skull crushed.

Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Dan Patterson fears a serial killer is stalking women on Kodiak. Including Deanna Kerr, three women have been murdered on the island in the past six months.  When a park ranger discovers the body of a fourth woman dumped in the park in the middle of a blizzard, Patterson contacts the FBI and requests their assistance.

FBI, Special Agent Nick Morgan has been to Kodiak before on another case, and he volunteers to return to the fascinating island and its unique, independent people. He knows he also accepted this assignment because he hopes to see Dr. Jane Marcus, a woman he met on his previous trip to the island and hasn’t been able to stop thinking about since then.

Morgan flies into Kodiak on an icy, December day to offer his assistance to the investigation. Only 13,500 people live on Kodiak Island, but Morgan soon realizes the list of suspects for these crimes is long. Could the killer be the crab boat captain who knew Deanna Kerr and was the last person seen with one of the other victims, or is the murderer one of the coaches at the high school or the strange assistant coach who seems to have an unhealthy relationship with children? The killer could also be someone related to one of the victims. Morgan believes the killer is a person the victims had no reason to fear and he thinks they willingly met with him. As the investigation proceeds, Patterson begins to worry the murderer could be a police officer or a trooper and may even be one of the members of his task force.

When the murderer strikes again, tensions escalate, and Patterson and Morgan know they must catch this monster before another woman dies or before the killer leaves the island and begins preying on women somewhere else.

The Fisherman’s Daughter will be released as an e-book on October 17th, and the print version will be released on November 1st. If you are planning to buy an e-book of The Fisherman’s Daughter, it will help boost the book’s ratings if you pre-order it. As always thank you for your support!

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The Pink Salmon Return

 

The pink salmon return to Kodiak was huge this summer, boosting the local economy, providing food for animals ranging from seagulls to killer whales, and offering a fish and wildlife lover like me a thrill.

I consider the life cycle of a Pacific salmon to be one of nature’s most fascinating enigmas, and I often wonder how a fish evolved such a complicated existence. Salmon face so many perils in their short lives; I’m amazed any of them manage to make it back to their birth streams to spawn.

Salmon lay their eggs in the late summer or early fall, just before the rainiest part of the year here on Kodiak. We often have rain for several days in a row in September and October, swelling the small streams and rivers to more than twice their natural size. The force of this excess water rushing downstream can wash the eggs from their nests before they have a chance to hatch. The flooding may also cause the river to change course, and when the flooding subsides, salmon nests that were previously underwater might now lie in a dry streambed.

A harsh winter can freeze the lower parts of a steam, killing the eggs or the small alevins after they hatch. Ice can also scour a river, taking salmon eggs with it as it moves downstream to the ocean.

Once a fry emerges from the gravel of the streambed, it is a tasty morsel for nearly any fish bigger than it is. It must sneak downstream at night and huddle with other young salmon nearshore in the ocean while it grows and readies itself for a trip to sea.

As a salmon grows larger, its chances for survival improve, and in the open ocean, it has fewer predators. Once a salmon begins its migration back to shore toward its home stream to spawn, though, everything wants to eat it. A pink salmon must dodge seals, porpoises, sea lions, sharks, killer whales, halibut, eagles, bears, humans, and other predators. It is not uncommon for us to catch a salmon while sport fishing and find the fish has marks on it from a commercial fishing net or a seal bite. I always feel bad for a fish that has escaped a net or a seal only to be caught by us.

While a salmon swims this gauntlet of predators on its return to spawn in its birth stream, it is undergoing incredible physiological transformations. Its color and shape changes, its kidneys must adapt from a saltwater environment to a freshwater stream, and it stops eating while its digestive system degrades. During the last few weeks of its life when it enters its natal stream to spawn, the salmon must draw on its stored energy reserves. After it spawns, its organs shut down, and the salmon dies a slow, ugly death.

I look at a salmon in the river in the fall. It is often covered with fungus and is so weak it can no longer swim against the current. While it is a sad sight, I can’t help but admire the fish. It made it home to spawn. It may not look like it, but this salmon is a survivor!

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I am excited to announce the e-book of my novel, The Fisherman’s Daughteris now available for pre-order.  

                                                                  

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Commercial and Sport Fishing for Pink Salmon


Commercial canning and salting of pink salmon began in the 1880s, but until WWI, pink salmon were not economically important for commercial use in North America. Demands during the war, though, led to a dramatic growth in the industry. In the first half of the twentieth century, commercial fishermen used fixed and floating fish traps to harvest pink salmon. These traps were so efficient, they nearly wiped out some runs, and the number of pink salmon in Alaska waters declined dramatically in the 1940s and 1950s. Fish traps were banned when Alaska became a state in 1959.

Today, pink salmon populations in Alaska are considered stable and well-managed. Most commercial fishermen now use either purse seines or gill nets to catch salmon. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) monitors the escapement of pink salmon by estimating the number of salmon that have entered their spawning streams. ADF&G opens and closes the commercial fishery until they are certain enough salmon have made it into the streams to spawn and maintain a stable population. Once they feel the streams have their escapement, they allow the commercial season to remain open until all the salmon have passed.

While ADF&G can monitor the commercial fishermen, they have little or no control over other factors affecting salmon. Late fall torrential rains can wash eggs out of a stream. Salmon are often harvested as by-catch by ocean trawlers or caught illegally by foreign fishermen on the high seas. Storms can also kill large numbers of salmon, and climate change may reduce their available prey in the ocean.

Pink salmon are one of the most important species of salmon for commercial fishermen. Due to their lower oil content, pink salmon aren’t worth as much per pound as other salmon species, but they are by far the most abundant salmon species in the state, and their sheer volume in numbers make up for their lower price. Since 1990, annual statewide harvests have averaged 100 million pink salmon. There was a huge pink salmon run on Kodiak Island this summer, and so far, estimates have reached a return of 28 million pinks just to Kodiak. Pink salmon are canned, filleted and flash frozen, made into nuggets, and prepared into complete pre-packaged meals sold worldwide.

In addition to being an important commercial species, pink salmon are also popular with sports anglers. Approximately 731,000 pink salmon are harvested each year by sports fishermen. Pink salmon may be smaller than other salmon, but in fresh water, they aggressively attack a lure and are fun to catch. They have a mild flavor similar that of a trout and are especially good grilled fresh.

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I am excited to announce the ebook of my novel The Fisherman’s Daughter is now available for pre-order at Amazon and other online booksellers.

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Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha)


Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) are also sometimes known as humpback salmon, or “humpies,” due to the hump males develop on their backs before they spawn. Pink salmon are the smallest of the five species of Pacific salmon found in Alaska. They average between 3.5 and 5 lbs. (1.6-2.3 kg) in weight and are usually between 20 and 25 inches (51-63 cm) long.

Young pink salmon are completely silver with no parr marks or spots. In their ocean phase, adult pink salmon are steel blue to blue green on the back and have silver sides and a white belly. As they get closer to fresh water, males develop large, black spots on the back, the adipose fin, and on both lobes of the caudal fin (tail). When they return to fresh water to spawn, males turn dark on the back and are red with olive blotches on the sides. They have a bright white belly. Females are similarly but less-distinctly colored. In their ocean phase, pink salmon have an elongate, fusiform shape, but when a male returns to fresh water, he develops a large hump on his back, an enlarged head with big teeth, and hooked jaws called a kype. These morphological changes allow a male to fight off other males once he has chosen a breeding partner.

Pink salmon are the most numerous Pacific salmon. They occur naturally throughout the coastal waters of the North Pacific Ocean, Arctic Ocean and nearby seas. In North America, pink salmon have been found in small numbers as far south as north-central California, but they are more common from Puget Sound northward. They also occur to the west from the Lena River in Siberia south to Korea and Kyushu, Japan. Pink salmon have been introduced to the Great Lakes. In Alaska, pink salmon are abundant along the coast.

Pink salmon complete their entire life cycle within two years, the shortest life cycle of any Pacific salmon. Because the life span is two years, fish born in an odd-numbered year do not interbreed with fish born in an even-numbered year, creating genetically distinct odd-year and even-year populations. Even if salmon spawn in the same stream, odd-year and even-year fish will never interbreed, and often, either the odd-year or even-year population in a stream will produce more fish.

Salmon eggs incubate in the gravel of a stream over the winter and hatch either in the late winter or early spring. The alevin that emerges from the egg remains under the gravel, receiving nutrients from the large yolk sac attached to its belly. Once it depletes its yolk sac and emerges from the gravel, the fry swims downstream to the ocean and begins eating plankton and larval fishes.

Eighteen months later, the adult salmon returns to the stream or river where it was born to spawn. It arrives back at the stream sometime between late June and mid-October, depending on the stream and the population. Once they reach their spawning stream, both males and females stop eating, and they change from their sleek, silver marine phase to their spawning coloration and morphology. A male develops hooked jaws and a hump on his back, and his head and teeth enlarge.

A spawning female chooses a suitable nesting spot in the gravel and prepares a nest by turning on her side, pressing her tail against the stream bottom, and giving several vigorous flaps with her tail. She repeats this action several times to dig a shallow hole. She then settles into the hole to deposit her eggs, and her male partner joins her to fertilize them, using his hooked jaw and large teeth to fend off any other would-be suitors. A female may dig as many as four nests. She digs the second nest upstream from the first nest, covering the eggs in the first nest with the gravel she dislodges while digging the second nest. A group of nests is called a redd. The female defends her redd until she dies, usually two weeks after spawning. All pink salmon die after they spawn.

A female pink salmon lays between 1200 and 1900 eggs. Pink salmon have a tough life. If a fry is lucky enough to make it downstream to the ocean, it faces a mortality rate of 2% to 4% per day for the first forty days. Young salmon provide food for birds, fish, invertebrates, and other predators. Studies show after forty days, the mortality rate drops to .4% to .8% per day. Once a salmon heads back to coastal waters and its natal stream, it must avoid humans, sharks, killer whales, seals, sea lions, river otters, eagles, and every fish larger than it is. When it reaches its birth stream, it becomes prey for bears, eagles, human anglers, and other predators.

Pink salmon mostly spawn in small streams and rivers near the coast, and most do not travel more than forty miles upstream to spawn. In large river systems, though, they sometimes travel further. Pink salmon have been documented swimming 130 miles (209 km) up the Susitna River in Southcentral Alaska, and they have been seen spawning 250 miles (402 km) up the Mulchatna River.

In the ocean, pink salmon eat plankton, small fish, squid, and an occasional aquatic insect. Their flesh gains its pink color from the tiny marine crustaceans they eat.

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Next week, I’ll write about the commercial and sports fisheries for pink salmon. While pink salmon may be the least flashy of the salmon species, they are known as the bread and butter of the salmon commercial fishing industry.

I will soon be releasing my next novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, so check back often for updates on its release. Also, be sure to sign up for my monthly mystery newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will be the first to hear about the release of my new novel.

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Pacific Salmon


Five species of Pacific salmon return each summer to breed in Alaskan streams, rivers, and lakes. I will admit salmon are confusing fish. Not only do they have some of nature’s most complicated life cycles, but each species of Pacific salmon is known by two different common names. Are Atlantic and Pacific salmon the same fish? Which species of Pacific salmon is worth the most money to commercial fishermen? Do the various species taste different? Which species of salmon freezes the best? Why do some species grow larger than others, and why do salmon jump when they return to spawn?

Over the next few weeks, I hope to answer the above questions while I profile each of the five species. In this post, I will give you a generic overview of salmon and describe the life cycle of a Pacific salmon.

Pacific salmon and Atlantic salmon belong to the same family but not to the same genus. Atlantic salmon are more closely related to some species of trout than they are to Pacific salmon. One big difference between Pacific and Atlantic salmon is Pacific salmon only breed once, and then they die. Atlantic salmon return to freshwater to breed many times before they die.

The five species of Pacific salmon are pink salmon, also known as humpies; chum salmon, also known as dog salmon; red salmon, also known as sockeyes; silver salmon, also known as coho; and king salmon, also known as chinook. The five species look very similar to each other in their marine ocean phase, but once they enter fresh water, salmon go through significant physical changes, and each species has distinctive markings.

Fertilized salmon eggs incubate in the gravel of a river or lake bed for a length of time that varies depending on the species as well as other factors. Once the egg hatches, it is called an alevin. An alevin is small and has a relatively large, orange yolk sac attached to its body. The alevin receives its nutrients from the yolk sac and remains hidden from predators in the safety of the gravel bottom of the stream or lake. As the alevin grows, it depletes the nutrients in the yolk sac and begins to develop mouth parts.

Once the yolk sac is depleted, the young salmon leaves the safety of the gravel bed and must search for its food. At this point in its life cycle, the fish is called a fry. Except for pink salmon, a fry has parr marks along each side of its body. These marks provide camouflage to protect the fry from predators. Fry eat food such as insect larvae and plankton.

This is where the life cycle begins to get complicated. Fry remain in fresh water for a length of time which not only varies between species but may also vary between populations of the same species. Sockeye and silver salmon usually remain in fresh water for one or two years, while pink and chum salmon migrate to sea soon after they emerge from the gravel. King salmon fry usually stay in fresh water for one year.

Before salmon migrate to the ocean, they lose their parr marks and turn silver in color. At this stage of their lifecycle, they are called smolt. Once smolt leave their freshwater stream, they spend a great deal of time in brackish water where freshwater streams flow into the ocean. They feed and grow in the brackish water until they reach a certain size, and then they migrate to the ocean. Once they enter the marine phase of their lifecycle, they are considered adult salmon.

Adult salmon remain in the ocean for a variable amount of time, depending on the species and the population. King salmon can stay in the ocean for as long as six years, but pink salmon return to freshwater to spawn when they are only two-years-old. Once adult salmon return to freshwater, they undergo a dramatic physical change. Sockeye salmon, king salmon, and silver salmon turn dark red, while chum salmon develop calico bands on each side of their bodies. Pink salmon turn dark, and males develop a hooked jaw and a large hump on their back.

Salmon return to the stream or lake where they were born to spawn and die. At this point in their lifecycle, they are called spawners. Once the salmon reach their spawning grounds, a male and female form pair bond. The female digs a bed, called a redd, for the eggs in the gravel. She deposits her eggs in the redd, and the male swims over the eggs and fertilizes them with his sperm. She then brushes a light coating of gravel over the eggs. Once they spawn, all species of Pacific salmon slowly deteriorate and die, their bodies left to fertilize the stream or lake where they were born, ensuring the birthing grounds will remain rich in nutrients for future generations.

Every year, I watch salmon return to their natal streams to spawn. This summer, we had a huge return of pink salmon to the many streams on Kodiak Island, and at times when I sat on our boat, salmon surrounded me, jumping out of the water as far as I could see, reminding me of popcorn. I am always amazed by the incredible life cycles of Pacific salmon and how the many animals and plants on Kodiak Island depend on salmon to survive and thrive. As they return from the ocean, salmon are chased by humans, bears, eagles, seals, sea lions, sharks, and any fish big enough and fast enough to catch them. It is a wonder any salmon survives the gauntlet it must swim to reach its birth area and reproduce. Once it spawns and dies, the body of a salmon provides nutrients for the stream or lake bed and the plants and trees growing in the vicinity. It is impossible to imagine a Kodiak riparian ecosystem without salmon.

Next week, I’ll write about pink salmon, the smallest but one of the most important of the five Pacific salmon species.

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Summer Update

This week, I would like to give you a summer update. Last week, I wrote about the difficult spring and summer I have had, but I didn’t want to leave things on a negative note. I began writing my last post a few weeks ago, and since then, I have gotten stronger and am beginning to recover the use of my muscles. Lately, I’ve been going out on the boat nearly every day with our summer guests; although, I will admit I’m not much help.

While I have been challenged by the physical demands of my job this summer, spending my days with our guests and the wildlife of Uyak Bay has done much to repair my psychological health. Mike took the above photo one day when a pod of Orcas fed and frolicked near our lodge. An abundant, sustained pink salmon run this summer has provided food for everything from Orcas to bears to eagles. Our fishermen have also enjoyed catching salmon.

Soon after my return from the hospital (you can read about that drama in my last post), a group of Australian guests involved us all in an interactive murder game, lasting their entire stay. The game was great fun and had us each trusting no one else in camp. It did not surprise me when Mike (my husband) won the game by murdering the most people. As if my summer hadn’t already been bad enough, Mike even murdered me!

The most uplifting news for me this season was to learn that a sow we have watched for the past eight years showed up this summer with three newborn cubs. The sow was badly injured by another bear when she was very young, and her rear end was flayed open. The injury was so bad, we didn’t think she would survive. We were happy and surprised to see her the next summer, and while the scar has faded over the years, it is still obvious. She has always been a favorite bear for us and our guests because she seems to like to perform in front of us, often catching a fish and then turning toward the photographers, fish held high while the cameras whir. The walls in our dining room are covered with photos of bears, and many of the photos are of her. As the years passed, and she appeared by herself summer after summer, we assumed she was a barren sow and wondered if the horrific injury she received when she was little more than a cub had anything to do with her inability to reproduce. We couldn’t have been more surprised when she showed up this summer with three tiny cubs trailing behind her, and I immediately began e-mailing some of our past guests to tell them the exciting news. From all accounts, she is a good mother, and all those years of fishing on her own have made her a proficient provider. She still doesn’t seem afraid of us, but she keeps her distance from humans now because she has more than herself to worry about.

We still have several weeks left of our summer season, and if nature follows its usual trend, fishing will peak in late August, and bear viewing will get better every day right up until our last day of the season in mid-September. Every year, nearly 50% of our guests are returnees, and this year is no exception. We love the mix of returnees and new guests, and I like to think of it as old and new friends.

No matter how bad the first part of my summer was, I knew things would improve once I climbed onto our boat, the Mary Beth, and began enjoying adventures with our guests.

You can read more about our lodge at www.munseysbearcamp.com .

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My Summer – Part One


This year, I struggled through a difficult spring into a terrible summer. It often seems bad things happen in bunches, and this has been my year for one of those bunches. In April, I experienced a painful outbreak of shingles. I live a floatplane ride away from a doctor, and it costs approximately $2000 for me to make a quick visit to my family practitioner, not counting the cost of the doctor’s appointment. I have to charter a plane both ways, rent a car, and usually stay in a hotel for at least one or two nights. When I face such an expense, I must stop to consider whether a trip to the doctor is really necessary. When I broke out with shingles, I decided I could not get to the doctor in time for the anti-viral medication to be effective, so I felt there was nothing a doctor could do for me.

The shingles virus raged inside my body. At times, I felt as if I had broken a rib and at others I swore I had pneumonia or was suffering a heart attack. The stabbing pain in my side was the most intense, and it was relentless. At night, I could find no position in bed where my body did not scream in pain, and I usually curled up in a chair for an hour or two of restless sleep. I am certain those of you who have had shingles understand the pain I am describing.

I foolishly thought once the blisters from the rash healed, I would recover. Unfortunately, though, the pain only seemed to get worse. In late May, we took our boat to town to have work done on it, and I saw my doctor who prescribed a medication to help numb the nerve pain. She also informed me the pain could last for several months or years, and I decided I’d better learn to live with it. Luckily, the medication did help, and the pain lessened.

In late June, I flew back to Kodiak to help my husband bring our boat home, an eight-to-12-hour voyage, depending on the weather. When we got back to our lodge, we were very busy getting things ready for our summer, tourism season. We are building a new cabin, so I spent my days painting walls. I also painted the long board-walk skirting our cabins, and I did yardwork and tended my garden. I could tell something wasn’t right with me, though. After we returned from town, I felt tired and blamed it on the very busy two days I’d spent in Kodiak. Then, I began to notice how difficult it was for me to walk up the hill from our dock. A few days later, I was startled when I could barely climb the stairs to a storage room. My left leg refused to work. Soon, I noticed weakness in my right leg and both arms. When I began to feel intense tingling in my hands and feet, I knew I had a neurological issue.

At first, I denied I had a medical problem; the last thing I wanted to do was fly back to Kodiak. Finally, two days before our summer season was to begin, I had to be helped onto a floatplane for the ride to town. My plan was to see the doctor and fly home the same afternoon.

I at first stumped the doctors in Kodiak, but when they consulted a neurologist in Anchorage, they came up with a possible diagnosis of Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS). They explained to me that my immune system got confused while fighting shingles and turned on my nervous system, stripping myelin from my nerve sheath. GBS can be dangerous and in an extreme case, an individual has difficulty walking in the morning, and by afternoon, her entire body, including her chest wall, is paralyzed, forcing her to be on a ventilator just to survive.

Doctors in Kodiak wanted to medevac me to Anchorage, but I assured them I could get myself on the jet to Anchorage and to the hospital once I arrived there. Further tests at Providence Hospital in Anchorage confirmed I had GBS, and the neurologist recommended an infusion of immunoglobulins each day for the next five days. Meanwhile, physical therapy could work with me to determine if my symptoms were getting better, staying the same, or worsening. The usual progression for GBS is to worsen rapidly and then stay steady for a period before slowly improving. The neurologist explained it would take a year for me to recover, but nearly everyone who has GBS recovers completely.

I felt thankful to receive treatment and to know I had something from which I would recover. I hated not to be home to finish the hundred little chores I wanted to do before our summer season began, but I knew my husband, Mike, and our brilliant cook, Mary, would have no problem starting our summer season without me. I especially regretted I would not be at our lodge to greet our new, young camp helper, Emily, but Mary assured me she would orientate Emily, and they would do fine.

I sat back in the hospital bed and watched the infusion drip down the tube and through the needle into my veins. All would be okay; I would get through this. I reminded myself repeatedly that it could be worse. And then it did get worse – much worse.

On my last day in the hospital, I decided to call my brother, Russell, his wife, Melanie, and their son, Nick, in Kansas. I am very close to my brother, but we usually communicate by e-mail, mainly since it is nearly impossible for me to make a telephone call from our remote lodge. I decided to call him from the hospital, though, because I knew he was worried about my condition, and I wanted to assure him I was recovering and would be okay. I reached Russell and had a nice conversation with him and his family. Then, according to Melanie, after we disconnected, Russell decided to mow the grass in 100⁰ heat.

Melanie called me back at the hospital just as the nurse was starting my final infusion and gave me the horrible news. Russell had suffered a heart attack and had died while mowing the grass, little more than an hour after I had talked to him.

My world crashed down around me at the news of my brother’s death. I couldn’t believe such a strong force and one of the most important people in my life could be gone, and I stupidly kept thinking he couldn’t possibly be dead because I just had talked to him. I worried about Melanie and Nick and what they would do without Russell. I know Melanie is strong, but they were a unit, and I couldn’t imagine her without him.

The following morning, the doctor released me from the hospital. I took a cab to the airport and made my way from the entrance to my gate, shocked by how slowly I walked and exhausted I felt. It had been too foggy for planes to land in Kodiak for the past two days, but I was lucky, and the fog lifted just before my flight.

In Kodiak, a van whisked me to Andrew Airways, and soon, I was in a floatplane flying home. I felt numb and very tired as we skirted emerald mountains, plunging waterfalls, and deep valleys formed by glaciers and cut by rivers. All I cared about was getting home and curling into a ball with my cat to lick my wounds. I knew I would cherish my last conversation with my brother and would always be grateful that for whatever reason, I had placed the call to him only an hour before he died. I knew I wasn’t well enough to be much help to Mike on our summer trips. My usual job is to work on the boat as a wildlife-viewing and sport-fishing guide, but now I wasn’t even sure I could crawl onto the boat. One day at a time, I told myself. I would improve.

As we circled our lodge and came in low for a landing, I looked at our dock and nearly burst into tears. There stood Mike, Mary, and Emily, and Mary held a beautifully designed “welcome home” sign for me. With their help, I stepped off the plane and hugged each of them. Even Emily, who didn’t yet know me, gave me a big hug. I’ve never been so happy to be home in my life, and yes, my cat allowed me to cuddle beside her while she licked my hand, and I took a nap.

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Next week I will tell you about what my life has been like since I returned home, and I promise that post will be full of stories about healing, wildlife and wonderful guests.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Pacific Halibut


I had planned to wrap up my series of blog posts on halibut last week, but then I realized I’d left unanswered questions, including some of the questions our guests most frequently ask us about halibut. Last week, I attempted to explain the complicated system and the agencies involved in regulating both the commercial and sports fisheries for halibut, so I’ll stay away from regulations here. If you would like to know more about halibut fishing regulations, let me know.

How old is my halibut?

It is very difficult to age a halibut by looking at it. Females grow much faster and larger than males, so a 40 inch (102 cm), 30 lb.(13.6 kg) male might be 20 years old, while a female that size could be as young as six-years-old. Growth rates also vary widely between individuals of the same sex. Scientists age halibut by counting the growth rings laid down on the otolith, a bony structure in halibut’s inner ear. The rings on an otolith are counted in the same manner a tree’s rings are counted to determine the age of a tree. Research has determined most halibut landed by a sports fishermen average between five and 15 years.

Is my halibut a male or female?

A halibut’s gonads are found at the bottom of the gut cavity. If the halibut is a female, the ovaries are triangular, hollow sacs that have a light pink tint. The testes in males appear solid and rubbery and are gray.

How much meat will I get from a 50-lb fish?

You should recover 50 to 60% of the total weight of the fish as edible meat. A 50-lb. (22.7 kg) fish will produce 25 to 30 lbs. (11.4 kg – 13.6 kg) of beautiful, boneless fillets.

What is a chalky halibut?

Sometimes the meat of a halibut, especially a smaller halibut, will appear opaque white instead of translucent when it is filleted. While this chalky meat may taste slightly drier than opaque meat, there is nothing wrong with the meat. Chalkiness is caused by a build-up of lactic acid in the flesh when the halibut over-exerts itself while it is fighting as the fisherman hauls it to the surface. Warmer water temperatures also seem to be a factor in causing increased lactic acid in the fish. In Alaska, 5% of all halibut caught are chalky.

How well do halibut survive catch and release?

Unlike rockfish or cod, halibut do not have an air bladder, or swim bladder, which expands from changes in water pressure, so halibut do not suffer as much when brought to the surface. Research has found that sport-caught halibut handled gently have a 95% survival rate.

My halibut turned to mush when I cooked it. What did I do wrong?

Oops! It may have looked like a small halibut, but you probably caught an arrowtooth flounder. Arrowtooth flounder are dusky colored on the “white” side, have larger scales than a halibut, and needle-like teeth in their long mouth. These flounder have an enzyme that when activated by heat, makes their flesh dissolve.

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That’s all I have on Pacific halibut, but I would love to hear questions and comments from you. Next, I will tackle Pacific salmon, but first, next week, I need to tell you about my spring and summer. This has not been the best year for me, but I hope by writing about it, I can turn things around so my end-of-the-year post will be about how great the last few months of 2017 were!

You can always cheer me up by signing up below for my free, monthly newsletter about true crime in Alaska. This month, my newsletter tells the story of a woman murdered by a car bomb in downtown Anchorage and the war her brother waged against the man he was certain had murdered her.

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Sport Fishing for Halibut and Who Manages Halibut Fishing in Alaska

 

Sport Fishing for Halibut:

Before 1973, sport halibut fishing was only legal when the commercial halibut season was open, but because there were few sport halibut anglers, this regulation was rarely enforced. As the sport fishery grew, the International Pacific Halibut Commission officially recognized it and established regulations for sport fishing in 1973. In 1975, anglers in Alaska harvested an estimated 10,000 lbs. of halibut. Since then, the sport fish take has continually increased, reaching over 8 million pounds today. Most sport fishing for halibut takes place in Southeast and South Central Alaska.

Sport-caught halibut average between 15 to 20 lbs. (6.8 – 9.1 kg) in weight, but anglers often catch much larger fish. The current Alaska state record for a sport-caught halibut is 459 lbs. (208 kg). Most anglers fish for halibut with bait such as herring, squid, octopus, or cod. Fishing for halibut is usually done off shore, and since most sport anglers visiting Alaska do not have access to a seaworthy boat, they must use a charter-sport-fishing service. The charter industry has grown rapidly in Alaska in recent years, and fishery managers now estimate the charter fishery accounts for 60 to 70% of the Alaska sport harvest. Along with this growth in the charter industry, regulations for charter boat owners have increased. In 2011, a limited entry system was implemented for the charter boat fleet. Regulations to further limit the number of pounds taken by the charter boat industry have been added nearly every year since 2011. By 2017, charter boats are not allowed to let their fishermen retain halibut two days of the week, and on the other days, a fishermen on a charter boat can retain only one halibut over 28 inches (71.2 cm) and may keep one halibut 28 inches (71.2 cm). or smaller.

Who Regulates Halibut Harvests in Alaska:

In 1923, when biologists realized halibut stocks were declining from over-fishing, the U.S. and Canada signed a treaty, creating the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC). In 1924, the Commission implemented a three-month, winter closure for commercial halibut fishing. The IPHC is responsible for assessing the status of halibut stocks and for setting catch limits and harvest strategies to provide an optimum yield. In the United States, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) divides the halibut resource between users and user groups in Alaska. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) develops and enforces regulations regarding the management of halibut fisheries in U.S. waters. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) Commissioner has a seat on the NPFMC, and the ADF&G licenses anglers and sport fishing businesses and guides and monitors and reports on sport and subsistence harvests. The ADF&G also helps federal agencies with the preparation of regulatory analyses. Whew! Are you confused yet?

The IPHC conducts most of the research on halibut. The IPHC uses annual longline surveys to monitor halibut abundance and the sex and size structure of the population. The IPHC also studies halibut migrations and movements as well as spawning and other behavior. The IPHC then incorporates the findings from its studies into stock assessment models to estimate abundance and evaluate harvest strategies.

The IPHC and the NMFS monitor commercial halibut harvests, while the State of Alaska monitors recreational harvests. On our charter boat, we must fill out a daily log book listing the number of halibut each angler catches and record how many each kept and how many each released.

Both commercial fishermen and charter boat captains pressure the IPHC and the other entities who help set quotas and other regulations for halibut fishing. Neither commercial fishermen nor charter boat captains feel the other group faces strict enough regulations, and both groups feel regulations are too strict for them. We all hope halibut abundance rebounds to previous levels.
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I decided next week to write one more blog post about halibut to answer some of the questions we are frequently asked by halibut fishermen. We just had our first group of serious fishermen this summer at our lodge, and I spent the week answering halibut questions, so they are fresh in my mind.

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