Why Do Salmon Jump And Other Questions

Why do salmon jump?

This is the question our guests most frequently ask about salmon as they watch fish pop out of the water around them. The answer is: no one knows. Some speculate salmon jump to loosen their eggs from the membrane encasing them, but males also jump, so this reasoning doesn’t work. Another explanation is they jump to catch flying insects, but their jumping behavior increases in frequency as they near their spawning stream at the same time their digestive system is shutting down and they stop feeding, so this explanation also is not valid.

I like to tell our guests the salmon they see jumping are teenagers. As a salmon prepares to spawn, its hormones rage and its body changes color and shape. These jumping fish are the equivalent of a human teenager, so they act like teenagers. While this explanation is always good for a laugh, there is no scientific evidence to support it.

My opinion, for what it’s worth (and not much, since there is also no scientific evidence to support this), is salmon have evolved to jump because jumping is beneficial to their survival. Salmon that have inherited the genetic characteristic to jump when they near their home stream are more likely than those who cannot jump to make it upstream and spawn. They then pass along this trait to jump to their offspring. Evolution has selected this jumping trait. Most salmon spawn in small streams and they must navigate shallow water, rapids, and sometimes even waterfalls. If they couldn’t jump, many salmon would never make it to their spawning grounds. Again, this explanation is only my opinion, but I believe it has some merit.

The correct answer to the question, “Why do salmon jump?” is: no one knows.

Do all salmon return to spawn in the same river or stream in which they were born?

No. A small percentage of salmon spawn somewhere other than where they were born. This behavior is called “straying,” and it is adaptive because it allows salmon to colonize streams that do not currently have a salmon population. It also allows salmon to spawn somewhere if the stream where they were born no longer exists. Pink salmon and chum salmon both often spawn close to the mouths of small streams. If these streams are diverted by winter storms, as often happens, the returning salmon will stray to a nearby stream.

When a salmon returns from the ocean, how does it find its spawning stream?

Salmon must navigate a long distance from the open ocean to their spawning stream. Evidence shows they use magnetic cues, the position of the sun, and day length to know when to begin their migration back to their natal stream and how to get there. Once salmon near and enter fresh water, scientists think they use their sense of smell to find not only their home stream or river but the specific tributary or area of the river where they were born. Juvenile salmon imprint on the unique chemical signatures of the waters where they were born and occupied as fry as well as on the waters they migrated through to get to the ocean. When they return to spawn, they follow this chemical smell back to where they were born.

How many salmon eggs hatch, develop, and return as adults to spawn?

Salmon have tough lives. From the egg stage, until they spawn and die, they are a food source for a wide variety of fish, birds, and mammals, including man. Biologists estimate 1 in 1000 eggs will develop, find their way to the ocean, swim back to their natal stream, and spawn. Depending on the species and the age of the fish when she spawns, a female salmon lays between 1000 and 6000 eggs, so the survival rate is not good.

I hope I’ve answered a few of your questions about the amazing Pacific salmon. Next week, I will tackle a big question. What is the difference between Atlantic and Pacific salmon?

________________________________________________________________________

If you haven’t seen my webinar on how I became an author and why I write Alaska wilderness mysteries, this is the link: http://bit.ly/2pcCOo6. If you like it, please share it with your friends. The free book offer is sincere, and there is no catch. Also, please sign up for my free, monthly newsletter about true murder and mystery in Alaska. This month I am writing about the Fairbanks Four. Four young men spent 18 years in prison for a murder they didn’t commit. 

Mystery Newsletter

Sign Up for my free, monthly Mystery Newsletter about true crime in Alaska.

Which Salmon Is It?

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been writing about Pacific salmon, so this week, I want to pause a minute and review. In their marine phase, the five species of Pacific salmon are hard to tell apart. Their life cycles are similar, and sometimes all five species spawn in the same river/lake system. What are their differences, and how do you tell one species from another?

Perhaps you are thinking, why should I care if I can differentiate between salmon species? Let’s pretend you are fishing in Alaska on a river where all five Pacific salmon species are present. It is legal to keep pink salmon, chums, and cohos, but you must release sockeyes and kings. You catch a beautiful, silvery salmon. You know right away it hasn’t been in fresh water long enough for its color and body shape to change. You also know if it is still silver in color, its flesh will be firm, and it will be good to eat. Is this one of the species you can keep, or must you release this fish?

The size of the fish is a clue, but often, different year classes of a species return to the same river, so size is not definitive. Does the fish have spots, and if so, where and how big? Spots are more visible when a salmon gains its spawning coloration, but if you look closely, the spots are visible in the silvery marine phase. Pink salmon have large, oval spots on the back and both lobes of the tail. Cohos have small black spots on the back and the upper lobe of the tail. Kings have spots on the back and both lobes of the tail. Sockeyes and chums have no spots on their backs or tails.

While you are looking at the tail, do you see any silver streaks? Cohos and kings have silver streaks radiating along the rays of the tail. Chums also have silver streaks but only on half the tail.

The mouth is another distinguishing characteristic. King salmon have a black mouth with a black gum line and a black tongue. Pinks also have a black gum line, but they have a white mouth. The other three species all have white mouths and white gum lines.

A chum salmon has a white tip on the anal fin, an important characteristic to note when trying to differentiate a chum from a sockeye.

Other distinguishing characteristics you can use include the size of the eye, scale size, and the shape of the tail, but none of these are easy to employ unless you are comparing one salmon to another.

Take a look at the salmon you caught. It weighs about four pounds and has spots on the back and both lobes of the tail. You think you see silver streaks in the tail, but you’re not certain, so you check the mouth and note a black gum line and a black mouth. You are allowed to keep the fish if it is a pink,  chum, or silver salmon, but you must release it if it is sockeye or king. Will you be able to grill this salmon for dinner, or should you carefully release it back into the stream?

The size of the fish, and the spots on the back and both lobes of the tail may lead you to jump to the conclusion you caught a pink salmon, and you can keep it. Only pinks and kings have spots on both lobes of the tail, so you can quickly rule out the other three species. The silver streaks in the tail may be hard to see, so you wisely check the mouth. Both pinks and kings have black gum lines, but only king salmon have a black mouth, including a black tongue. Take a closer look at the fish. Are the spots small or are they large and oval? If you said small, you have your answer. You caught a small, probably a mature 3-year-old king salmon, and you must release it.  

It takes practice to identify a silvery Pacific salmon in its marine phase. Commercial fishermen can quickly differentiate one species from another, but if you only occasionally fish for salmon, one silver salmon looks much like the next. If you can’t identify the salmon you caught, you must release it, so if you plan to go salmon fishing in Alaska without a guide, you should do your homework first.

Next week, I’ll write about some of the questions we are commonly asked about salmon, and I will do my best to answer them.

__________________________________________________________________________

I am excited to announce the webinar I told you about last week explaining how I became an Alaska wilderness mystery writer and where I get some of my ideas for my novels, has now been released. To see the webinar, follow this link: http://bit.ly/2pcCOo6. I used many of Mike’s photos and my friend, Ryan Augustine’s photos and videos in the webinar, so I think you will enjoy it. Please share the webinar link with your friends and family. If you stay until the end, you can get a free e-book of one of my novels. The purpose of the webinar is to introduce myself and my books to a wider audience, so the more you share this link, the happier I will be! Thank you!

_________________________________________________________________________

Sign up below for my free newsletter about true murder and mystery in Alaska.

Mystery Newsletter

Sign Up for my free, monthly Mystery Newsletter about true crime in Alaska.

Welcome, 2018

I am excited to welcome 2018 and not at all sad to leave 2017 behind me. Do you wish you could see into the future? I certainly would not want that ability. I looked back at the post I wrote a year ago, and I was so enthusiastic and excited about what I would accomplish in 2017. I had no idea I would spend most of the year sick, weak and in pain, and I had no clue my brother, uncle, and cousin would pass away in 2017. I would not have wanted to know any of these things on January 1st, 2017.

New Year’s Day is a time for planning, dreaming, and looking forward. Life happens, and plans get derailed by sickness, death, and catastrophes, but still, the ability to plan and dream is a luxury, and I know I am extremely fortunate to live someplace where I can indulge in that luxury. I think about people who live in extreme poverty or war-torn countries. What are their dreams when they know their situation is unlikely to improve in the coming year? What is New Year’s Day like for them? For me, 2018 is shiny and bright and full of possibilities. I am very lucky.

My health is improving with every passing day.  I am regaining my strength, and my muscles are slowly returning to life. Before long, I will be able to exercise again, and then I will have more energy and a sharper mind (I hope!). I often have been told to appreciate my health, but I don’t think I gave it a second thought until now. I won’t take my health for granted again.

I checked my resolutions from the post I wrote last year to see what I did and did not accomplish. I wanted to publish my third novel, and I did. The Fisherman’s Daughter is now available at online booksellers. I hoped to finish and edit my wildlife book, and I accomplished half of that resolution. I finished the book, but I haven’t edited it yet. I hope to tackle the big job of editing it this winter. I resolved to work on the camp cookbook, but I didn’t do much on it. I also resolved to have the rough draft of my fourth novel written, but nope, I haven’t done that either.

So, what have I done? Editing The Fisherman’s Daughter took much longer than I anticipated, and while I hate to blame anything on my health, it took its toll. I only had enough energy for my job, my blog posts, my newsletter, and editing. I did write approximately 20,000 words of my next novel, and I know the story I want to tell. I am excited about the novel I call Karluk Bones, and I think it will be a good story. I am working on it again now, so I’m sure I will finish it in a few months, and I hope to have it published sometime in 2018.

I have written enough Mystery Newsletters about true crime in Alaska to compile them into a book, and I hope to self-publish my true-crime book this year and offer it free to my newsletter subscribers. If I finish my true crime book, my wildlife book, and another novel, I could publish three books in 2018. I may be dreaming, but I think it is good to dream.

As a nice surprise this year, my publisher started a website called Author Masterminds: https://authormasterminds.com where I and some of his other authors can sell our books. I have my personal information on my author page, so if they want to, readers can contact and correspond with me. The site is also an easy place for authors to discount their books and run promotions. I think the site has a great deal of potential, and I am anxious to explore and spend more time on it in the next few months. It is not easy to be a successful author in today’s marketplace, but so far, I still think it is possible. I still have that dream!

My publisher also created a webinar for me about how I became a published author, and soon it will be ready for you to see. I used Mike’s gorgeous wildlife photos and my friend Ryan Augustine’s amazing photos and videos to create the webinar, so I am very happy with the way it turned out. If you want to take a quick trip to the wilderness of Alaska, I think you’ll enjoy the show.

I wish you a happy 2018. May you have good health, happiness, and love, and may you never stop dreaming.

Mystery Newsletter

Sign Up for my free, monthly Mystery Newsletter about true crime in Alaska.

 

Happy Holidays

 

Happy Holidays! I hope you are enjoying a festive or peaceful holiday season. I know some enjoy the hustle and bustle of the holidays while others seek peace. My holidays are very quiet, and I enjoy the peace.

This is the season when I have time to write and indulge myself in a few hobbies. Of course, I also have plenty of work to do this time of year, but I do it on my schedule.

So far, our winter has been wet, windy and warm. The weather has not lured me outdoors for a hike, but I’m happy to have warm weather, even if it is stormy. When the weather is warm, we don’t have to worry about our water line freezing, and more importantly, we don’t have to watch the deer struggle to stay warm and finally die from exposure and starvation. Last winter was very cold, and approximately half the deer on the island died. When we returned from our vacation in March and hiked into the woods, we found deer carcasses everywhere. When it snows here, it is beautiful, but then I think about the deer, and I begin to worry about them.

We are gaining a few seconds of daylight each day again, but right now, it starts getting light at 10:00 am and dark again at 4:00 pm. Kodiak Island is in the southern part of Alaska, so we have more daylight than most of the state. I don’t mind the limited daylight, but what wears on me is even when it’s light in the middle of the day, we don’t see the sun because it is low on the horizon, and mountains surround us. I miss the sun, and I will be very happy when it returns in a few weeks.

A perfect Christmas day for me will be (weather permitting) a hike on the beach with Mike and our cats, followed by a Christmas dinner with our neighbor, Jim, and capped off by a hot-buttered rum in front of the woodstove.

Wherever you are and whatever you celebrate this time of year, I wish you joy, happiness, and peace.

_______________________________________________________________________

If you’d like to buy yourself a gift, my novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, is now available for sale in both e-book and print formats. For a free gift to yourself, sign up below for my newsletter about true crime and  mysteries from Alaska.  You can check out this month’s newsletter about the ambush of two Alaska State Troopers by following this link:  Massacre in Tanana.

Mystery Newsletter

Sign Up for my free, monthly Mystery Newsletter about true crime in Alaska.

What Happened to the Big King Salmon?

Les Anderson landed the largest king salmon ever caught in the Kenai River on May 17th, 1985. Les and a friend were fishing from his boat when he hooked into the monster at 7:00 am, and the rest is a legend. Les and his friend battled the salmon for an hour chasing it up and down the river. Les fell once in the bottom of the boat, and when they finally got the fish near the side of the boat, the net was too small, so they had to tow the salmon to shore and beach it. After all that, Les put the huge salmon in the bottom of the boat while the men continued to fish. Once they were done fishing, Les left the fish in the back of his pickup until 2:00 pm when friends finally convinced him to weigh it. The giant weighed 97 lbs. 4 oz. (44 kg), and many people believe it would have topped 100 lbs. (45.4 kg) if Les had weighed immediately after he caught it.

While Les Anderson’s fish was the largest documented king ever caught in the Kenai, 60-to-80-lb. (27.2-36.2 kg) kings were commonly caught in the river during the 1980s and 90s. Since 2003, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) has required that all king salmon greater than 55 inches (139.7 cm) be sealed by ADF&G within three days of the time they are caught. In the last nine years, only one king salmon over 55 inches has been sealed by the department. This fish was 55.5 (141 cm) inches long and weighed 71.1 lbs. (32.3 kg).

What happened to the huge king salmon in the Kenai and other rivers, and more importantly, why are fewer kings returning to spawn in many areas? In the early 1900s, before the Grand Coulee Dam was built, king salmon weighing more than 100 lbs. (45.4 kg) were frequently harvested from the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. Today, kings from the Columbia River average 20 lbs. (9.1 kg). The largest commercially caught king in Alaska was a 126 pounder (57.2 kg) caught in 1949 in a fish trap near Petersburg in Southeast Alaska. Nothing close to that size has been documented since then. Over the past few years, ADF&G has issued emergency fishing closures for numerous king salmon rivers in the state, including the Kuskokwim River in Southwestern Alaska, the Kenai and other rivers in Southcentral Alaska, and rivers in Southeastern Alaska. Biologists are concerned because not enough king salmon are returning to spawn.

What’s happening to the king salmon? There is no shortage of answers to this question. A fisheries professor from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks believes salmon sharks may partially be responsible for the decline, and while he offers evidence that salmon sharks do eat king salmon, it’s hard to understand how sharks could cause the decline of one salmon species but not the others.

Here are some of the other reasons offered for the decline of king salmon runs.

  1. Commercial set-netters and seiners kill too many kings while trying to catch other salmon.
  2. Draggers fishing on the high seas are wiping out the king salmon. Draggers kill as many as 3.4 king salmon per metric ton of pollock caught. Since draggers take over a million tons of pollock each year, as many as 3.4 million king salmon are possibly caught and dumped by this fishery each year.
  3. Professional sport-fishing guides target and kill too many kings, and because their clients are after the big kings, they have altered the gene pool by catching the big kings before they can spawn. This phenomenon is called fishery-induced evolution.
  4. Bank erosion and high bacteria levels caused by too many fishermen standing on the bank or stepping in the river have damaged king spawning areas.
  5. Our oceans are changing, so fewer kings survive their time at sea.
  6. There is no issue. King salmon stocks are as healthy as they ever were, and there is no reason for the ADF&G closures.

I think most people would disagree with #6. There is a problem, and while it is always easy and preferable to point the finger at someone else, I think the blame can be spread among the other five options. We have simply loved our king salmon to death. In the 1980s and 90s, more than 100 sport boats per day trolled for kings in salt water near the Kenai River. More than 500 drift gillnetters deployed nets in Cook Inlet, 450 set-netters strung their nets near the mouth of the Kenai River. Personal-use and subsistence fishermen set their nets, and personal-use dip-netters flocked to the mouths of the Kenai and Kasilof. Dip-netters alone harvested between 500 and 1500 kings a year. In 1989, 160 sportfishing guides were registered to guide on the Kenai. By 1997, 354 guides worked the Kenai, and by 2006, the number of guides had risen to 396. Add in the scores of fishermen who line the shores of the river every year, and it is a wonder any king salmon survives this gauntlet to spawn.

An ADF&G study in 1988 determined more than 90% of the entire early-run of king salmon on the Kenai had been caught at least once before reaching their spawning grounds, and some had been caught two or three times by sport anglers. Catch-and-release restrictions are sometimes enforced in areas where biologists are concerned about king runs, but how many of these fish die after they are released? Salmon returning to fresh water are already stressed. They have stopped eating and are undergoing major physiological changes as they prepare to spawn. The amount of energy they must exert while fighting a fisherman and the stress they undergo while the fisherman releases them can kill them before they can spawn.

There is no one easy answer to what we must do to protect Alaska’s king salmon. The solution will require ADF&G, commercial fishermen from every industry, sportfishing guides, and the public to work together. Can we do it? Time will tell.

______________________________________________________________________

My latest novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter about a serial killer stalking women on Kodiak Island is now available, and if you haven’t yet signed up to my free, monthly newsletter about true murder and mysteries from Alaska, be sure to sign up below.

Mystery Newsletter

Sign Up for my free, monthly Mystery Newsletter about true crime in Alaska.

Fishing for King (Chinook) Salmon

Last week, I mentioned that king (Chinook) salmon are the least abundant of the five Alaska salmon species, but their presence, or more accurately, absence, in the last several years has greatly impacted commercial, sport, and subsistence fishermen. Biologists quickly shut down fisheries in areas where they determine an inadequate number of king salmon have returned to spawn and maintain a healthy population. These closures not only affect sport anglers hoping to land a huge king, but they impact commercial and subsistence fishermen pursuing sockeye and other salmon species. Kings usually spawn in large river systems, the same systems sockeyes favor. When a fishery is closed to protect king salmon, gill-net fishermen and seiners are restricted from fishing in the area since their gear cannot differentiate between salmon species. Next week, I will go into more detail about the controversies swirling around king salmon, but this week I want to explain the different fisheries and even tell you a little about aquaculture for king salmon.

Commercial Fishing for King Salmon

 The king salmon return is small relative to other salmon species, but kings are worth a good deal per pound for commercial fishermen. In 2017 fishermen were paid an average of $5.86 per pound for kings. According to the state, commercial fishermen harvested 251,141 king salmon, worth $17.8 million in 2017.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) shut down commercial and sport fishing for kings in Southeastern Alaska on August 10th, 2017 when data indicated a record-low return of kings for the area. Commercial fishing for kings in Southeastern Alaska is primarily done by trolling. ADF&G opens the area to commercial trolling for kings in July and again in August, but with the poor return of king salmon to the area, ADF&G decided to cancel the August opening.

In other parts of Alaska, king salmon are not individually targeted but are caught in gill nets and purse seines with other salmon species. Even though kings return in relatively small numbers, there is an excellent market for kings because of their large size, rich flavor, and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.]

I mentioned last week that 3% of all king salmon have white meat instead of red meat. Except for color, there is no difference in the chemical composition of the meat between white and red kings, but red-fleshed kings are more valuable because they look better to the consumer.

Sport and Subsistence Fishing for King Salmon

Anglers consider king salmon one of the ultimate game fish, and people flock to Alaska from all over the world for the thrill of fighting one of these monsters on a rod and reel or with fly gear. The main drawback for king salmon anglers is that relatively few rivers in the state have king salmon runs, and there are few areas on these rivers easily accessible to humans. Also, sockeyes and cohos spawn in the same rivers used by kings, so anglers targeting cohos and sockeyes also descend upon these same few fishing spots. As a result, king salmon fishing in Alaska is often called “combat fishing” with hundreds of anglers lining the banks of the river while sport fishing guides troll the river in front of them. Some folks enjoy the thrill of the combat-fishing drama, but this type of fishing cannot be considered relaxing and peaceful.

Combat fishing is famous on the Kenai and Russian Rivers on the Kenai Peninsula. Every summer, Central Peninsula General Hospital in Soldotna removes an average of 200 fishing lures from anglers who have been hooked by other fishermen. Etiquette rules exist for combat fishing, including yelling, “Fish on!” to let nearby anglers know you have a fish. Neighboring anglers are then supposed to reel in their lines and let you land your salmon as quickly as possible.

Trolling with rigged herring is the favorite method of fishing for kings in salt water. Most freshwater anglers use lures or salmon eggs. From 1989 to 2006, the annual Alaska sport-fish harvest of kings averaged 170,000 fish. Both a fishing license and a king salmon stamp are required to fish for kings, making it a lucrative fishery for the state.

An average of 167,000 king salmon are caught annually by subsistence fishermen. Subsistence fishermen can use a gill net, seine, long line or other methods defined by the Board of Fisheries.

Aquaculture for King Salmon

 While king salmon are not reared in pens in the United States, they are reared and sold in New Zealand and Chile. Half of the global production of king salmon comes from New Zealand, and half of New Zealand’s production is exported, mostly to Japan and other Pacific Rim countries, including Australia. Most farmed kings are raised until they weigh 6.6 to 8.8 lbs. (3-4 kg) before they are harvested.

___________________________________________________________________________

Next week, I will cover the controversy swirling around king salmon. Why aren’t kings as big or as plentiful as they used to be?

Don’t forget to sign up below for my free newsletter about true murders in Alaska. Also, my new novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter is now available.

Mystery Newsletter

Sign Up for my free, monthly Mystery Newsletter about true crime in Alaska.

 

 

King (Chinook) Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)

King salmon, also called Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) are the largest Pacific salmon, and they are also the least abundant of the Pacific salmon species. Adult kings average 24 to 36 inches (61 to 91 cm) in length but may be as long as 58 inches (150 cm). They average 10 to 50 lbs. (4.5 to 22.7 kg) but sometimes grow much larger. The world record sport-caught king, caught on May 17th,1985 in the Kenai River in Alaska, weighed 92.25 lbs. (44.11 kg.), and the largest king salmon caught by a commercial fisherman weighed 126 lbs. (57 kg). This fish was caught near Rivers Inlet, British Columbia in the 1970s.

King salmon can be distinguished from other Pacific salmon species by the black spots present on their head and on both the upper and lower lobes of the tail and by their black gums. In their marine phase, kings are dark green to blue on the top of the head and back and silver to white on the sides, belly, and tail. When they return to fresh water to breed, they turn olive brown, red, or purple in color. Males are more brightly colored than females. In the ocean, kings are torpedo-shaped with a heavy mid-section and a blunt nose. During their breeding phase, males develop a hooked nose and enlarged teeth. Fry can be identified by well-developed parr marks extending below the lateral line. When they become smolt and are headed for the ocean, they have bright, silver sides, and the parr marks recede to above the lateral line.

In North America, king salmon range from Monterey Bay in California to the Chukchi Sea in Alaska. On the Asian coast, kings occur from the Anadyr River in Siberia to Hokkaido, Japan. In Alaska, they are most abundant in the Yukon, Kuskokwim, Nushagak, Susitna, Kenai, Copper, Alsek, Taku, and Susitna Rivers. Kings have been introduced to many areas, including the Great Lakes of North America, Patagonia, and New Zealand. King salmon are raised in pens in New Zealand and are an important export for the country.

King salmon spawn in fewer rivers than other Pacific salmon because they require larger, deeper rivers and spawn only in areas with good water flow through the gravel. They migrate from the ocean back to their birth streams in the winter and early spring, and while some enter fresh water as early as May, most enter streams in late June or early July. Most Alaska rivers receive only a single run of kings each year. Usually, those entering the streams first are the ones that will travel the furthest. Yukon River kings may travel more than 2000 miles (3219 km) to the headwaters of the Yukon River to spawn.

When a female king arrives in the spawning area, she selects a spot for her nest. She swims to the bottom of the stream, turns on her side and gives several powerful thrusts with her tail to remove gravel from the stream bottom. She continues to dig, resting occasionally, until she has a long, deep nest. While she is digging her nest, she drives off any other females that approach but pays little attention to the males. She is usually accompanied by a dominant male and one or two subordinate males. The dominant male, and occasionally one of the subordinate males, drive off any other male intruders. The males do not help with the nest digging, but the dominant male may court the female by resting beside her and quivering or by swimming over her and touching her dorsal fin with his body and fins.

When the nest is finished, the female drops into it followed by the dominant male and sometimes one or more of the subordinate males. The fish open their mouths, quiver, and release their eggs and sperm. The female then swims to the upstream end of the nest and begins digging a second nest, covering the eggs in the first nest with the gravel she unearths for the second nest. She continues digging four or five nests or more over the next several days and lays between 3,000 and 14,000 eggs. Even after all her eggs are laid, she continues digging in a haphazard manner until she weakens and dies. The male may mate with another female, but he also will soon die.

In Alaska, king salmon eggs hatch in the late winter or early spring, depending both on when they were laid and the temperature of the water. The hatchlings are called alevins, and they live in the gravel for several weeks, receiving nutrition from their attached yolk sac. Two to three weeks later, the young fry, as they are now called, wiggle up through the gravel and begin to feed on their own. Fry in fresh water feed on plankton and insects. Some kings, called “ocean-type,” migrate to saltwater during their first year. “Stream-type” kings remain in fresh water for one or even two years. In Alaska, most kings remain in fresh water one year and then migrate to the ocean as smolts the following spring.

In the ocean, king salmon eat herring, pilchard, sandlance, squid, crustaceans, and other organisms. They are voracious feeders, and they grow rapidly in the ocean, often doubling their weight in just one summer. Most king salmon have pink or red meat, but 3% of all kings have white meat. In Southeast Alaska, as many as 40% of the kings in some runs have white flesh. Biologists are unsure whether the variable meat color is due to genetics or to what the fish eat.

Kings become sexually mature anywhere from their second to their seventh year, so they vary greatly in size when they return to spawn. A mature three-year-old king, called a “jack,” would weigh less than four pounds (1.8 kg) while a mature seven-year-old would probably weigh more than fifty pounds (22.7 kg). Males mature earlier than females, so most jacks are males, and in many spawning runs, males outnumber females in all but the six-and-seven-year age groups.

King salmon are considered relatively uncommon but not rare in Alaska, but in some rivers their numbers have dropped drastically in the past few years. Over the next two weeks, I’ll write about the various fisheries for kings and the controversies swirling around them.

_____________________________________________________________________

If you enjoy mysteries set in the wilderness of Alaska, I just released my third novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter. If you want to read about true murders in Alaska, sign up below for my free, monthly Mystery Newsletter.

Mystery Newsletter

Sign Up for my free, monthly Mystery Newsletter about true crime in Alaska.

 

Author Platform

Last week in my Thanksgiving post, I mentioned working on my author platform. Since I am often asked how I sell my books, I decided to write a post about my author platform and how I promote (or how I should promote) my books.

I love to write and enjoy creating a fictional story, but the rest of my job as an author is not easy, and I’m not good at it. My latest novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter went on sale four weeks ago, and at first, sales were good, but lately, they have dwindled. I know sales have fallen because I have not been promoting the novel as I should. My excuse, and it is not a good one, is I’ve been exhausted. As we neared the end of the season at our lodge, I only had enough energy to work with nothing left over for writing or promotion.

According to my publisher, I should dedicate at least two hours a day to social media. Lately, I have fallen one hour and fifty-five minutes per day short of this goal. I also have not “advertised” my book in any other way. In today’s market where thousands of books are published every day, it is not easy for an author to find readers. There are, however, scores of “promoters” ready to tweet about an author’s book to the masses for a fee (and sometimes a hefty fee). I have fallen for some of these offers, and they did not work. If an author wants to find readers, she must reach out and approach them one at a time.

An author’s platform is a way an author attracts dedicated readers. A platform consists of a website, a blog with frequent posts, and a newsletter where an author can contact a prospective reader through his or her e-mail inbox. The platform also includes social media, such as an author’s page on Facebook, a presence on LinkedIn, an active Twitter account, a Pinterest board, Instagram, Google +, Goodreads, etc. The platform also includes non-internet activity such as book signings, speaking engagements, and other appearances where an author talks about her books.  The platform can also include many other things, but this gives you an idea of the basics.

I have a website and a blog, and I post frequently, I also have an e-mail newsletter. I am on social media, but I do not post as often as I should, and I am not active in the social media groups I have joined. I don’t usually have two hours a day to spend on social media, and if I did spend that much time on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, I’d never find time to write.

Unfortunately, while the number of brick and mortar bookstores decreases, the number of books being published increases. More than one million books are published in the U.S. each year, and it is impossible for a new author to get her book into a store without the backing of a large publishing agency. Most authors I know are not great at promoting themselves or their work. We want to write not sell.

I will keep working on my author platform, and maybe I’ll get better at self-promotion. My publisher is currently encouraging me to work on a webinar about how I became a published author. It’s a fun project, and I’m excited to work on it. I’m not sure how I will use it to sell books, but I’ll let you know when it’s done, so you can take a look at it and tell me what you think.

I’ll continue my salmon posts next week when I write about king salmon biology. My fish posts have been popular, and I love the opportunity to dive into each species and learn as much as I can about it. Learning about fish is so much more fun than selling books!

Please sign up for my newsletter so I can put another brick on my author platform!

Mystery Newsletter

Sign Up for my free, monthly Mystery Newsletter about true crime in Alaska.

 

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to my U. S. viewers, and thank you to everyone who reads my weekly blog. I think it’s great we have a holiday dedicated to reflecting on what is truly important to us and reminding us of all we have.

I’ve had a tough year, but instead of leaving me less thankful, this year has made me more thankful for all I have now and for all I’ve been blessed with in my life. Last year, my oldest brother died, and this year my other brother died, leaving me with no parents or siblings. The thought of being the last of my childhood family has knocked the wind out of me. Family memories from my childhood belong only to me now, and they are a burden that weighs heavily on me. I can no longer e-mail my brother and say, “Hey, remember the Thanksgiving when. . . ?

Holidays can be sad when a loved one has recently died, but I’m trying to focus on the good, and I have many wonderful people in my life for which I am very thankful. This year, in particular, I am taking stock of my loved ones.

I have also had a rough year health-wise, but I am slowly recovering, and I made it through our busy season, so now I can rest. My illness has made me think about people who are disabled with no hope of recovery, and my heart goes out to them. Not being able physically to do what you want is tough, and I am thankful I will recover my strength within a few months.

Writing brings me joy and gets my creative juices flowing, but lately, I have been too tired to write. Our lodge is now closed for the year, though, and I am looking forward to again tackling my writing projects. I’ve started my next novel and hope to edit my wildlife book and get it ready to publish.

Working on my author platform is necessary if I ever want to make a living as an author, but I have put little effort into promotion lately. I plan to spend a great deal of time working on my author platform over the next several weeks.

Life in the wilderness can be hard. We must do everything ourselves. We can’t call a mechanic if something breaks or hire a crew to build a new cabin. It’s up to my husband and me to do these jobs, and sometimes I yearn for an easier life. Then, I look around me at the beauty of the ocean and the mountains, and I pinch myself. I am the luckiest person in the world to live in such a beautiful place, and I am very thankful. Where else could I look out the window and see a beautiful fox sitting in the backyard?

I am thankful for all of you who have read my books, my mystery newsletters, and my blog posts. The number of people who visit my website each day has slowly increased over time, and the number of subscribers to my newsletter continues to grow. Whenever I receive a notice saying someone new has signed up for my newsletter, I cheer. I value each of my subscribers, and I work hard to write interesting newsletters for them each month.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to reflect, and I only need to watch the news to realize how fortunate I am to live in a country where freedom is a right, not a dream.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Mystery Newsletter

Sign Up for my free, monthly Mystery Newsletter about true crime in Alaska.

Sockeye Salmon and Humans

Humans prize sockeyes for their firm, beautiful meat. A strong or weak sockeye run can mean the difference between fortune and poverty for commercial fishermen, and sport and subsistence anglers wait eagerly for the sockeyes to return each summer. Not only are sockeyes the ultimate fish to smoke, dry, or freeze, but they are good fighters and fun to catch.

As I mentioned last week, the complex life cycle of a sockeye salmon requires an extensive river/lake system. Sockeyes spawn in the stream or river, and then the fry move into the lake where they feed and grow for one or more years before heading out to sea. This life cycle works best when man does not interfere by building dams, logging, digging mines or developing land near critical salmon spawning and rearing habitat. Unfortunately for the salmon of Bristol Bay, the richest sockeye spawning grounds in the world, the rivers where sockeyes spawn are near one of the largest copper ore deposits in the world. For the past several years, Alaskans have been arguing loudly about the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. After I describe the commercial and sport fisheries for sockeyes, I will explain the Pebble Mine debate in more detail.

Commercial Sockeye Fishery

 Sockeyes are the most valuable salmon for commercial fishermen. There aren’t as many sockeyes as pink salmon, but sockeyes are worth more per pound than pinks because their meat is firmer, they freeze better, and they have a richer flavor than other species of salmon. Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska has the largest commercial sockeye fishery in the world. On average, fishermen catch ten to thirty million sockeyes each year in the region during a short, intense fishery lasting only a few weeks. In 2017, 59 million sockeyes were caught in Bristol Bay, and processors paid fishermen $1.13 per pound. The total sockeye harvest for the state in 2017 was valued at $326 million.

Certain regions of Bristol Bay are particularly productive. In 2017, commercial fishermen in the Nushagak region caught over one million salmon on two separate days. On July 3rd, during a storm and in heavy seas, fishermen landed 1.5 million sockeyes, and several fishing boats sank or became grounded when fishermen battled stormy seas while heavily loaded with fish.

Sport and Subsistence Fisheries

 Sockeyes are important to the economy of Alaska, not only because of the commercial fishery but also due to a growing sport fishery that brings many visitors to the state. One of the most important fisheries to the residents of Alaska, though, is the subsistence harvest. Most subsistence fishing is done with a gillnet.

Sport fishing for sockeyes is an art. Sockeyes eat plankton, so unlike cohos, pink salmon, and king salmon, sockeyes do not aggressively chase a lure. Fishing experts suggest the best way to hook a sockeye is by using a bare hook or a hook with colored yarn tied to it. The angler then catches the fish by either accidentally hooking it in its mouth or by aggravating the salmon with continual casts until the fish snaps at the hook. Once the fish is on the line, it is a strong fighter

 Status and Trends

While salmon stocks in the lower 48 have declined significantly over the past few decades, sockeye salmon stocks in Alaska are doing well. Due to their economic importance, sockeyes are carefully managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, but in recent years, the proposed Pebble Mine project near Bristol Bay has concerned many Alaskans about the future of the largest sockeye salmon run in the world.

The Pebble Mine is the name of a mineral exploration project hoping to gain the rights to mine a huge copper, gold, and molybdenum mineral deposit in the Bristol Bay region near Lake Iliamna and Lake Clark. This deposit is estimated to be the second largest of its type in the world. Those who support the mine say it will create jobs, provide tax revenue to the state of Alaska, and reduce American dependence on foreign sources of these minerals. Those opposed to the mine, claim it will pollute the Bristol Bay watershed, possibly destroying valuable fish stocks, including sockeye salmon. If that happens, the strong fishing economy already present in the region could collapse, wiping out fishing jobs and income.

Nearly every copper mine in the world has polluted the environment around it by releasing water high in acids and contaminants. Plans for the open-pit Pebble Mine propose to impound contaminated water, waste rock, and mine tailings behind several earthen dams at the mine site. This mine would be situated upstream from the Kvijack River, the river with the single largest sockeye salmon run in the world.

The controversy over the Pebble Mine has been a major issue in Alaska since the mid-2000s. In April 2009, a Native delegation from the Bristol Bay region told the mining company behind the Pebble project that the Bristol Bay watershed was no place for an open-pit mine. The mine was put on hold in 2013 after the loss of funding partners, but it has recently gained the interest of other investors and is now back in the news.

I will be honest; I am opposed to the Pebble Mine, and support for the mine is low in Alaska. Anything that could destroy the pristine environment where millions of sockeye and other salmon return each year to spawn should not, and I hope will not be allowed.

Do you have an opinion about the Pebble Mine? I’d love to hear it!

______________________________________________________________________

My novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter is now available for sale in both e-book and print formats. Also, be sure to sign up for my newsletter about murder in Alaska.

Mystery Newsletter

Sign Up for my free, monthly Mystery Newsletter about true crime in Alaska.