Fifth vessel joins 2022 Pan-Pacific winter high seas expedition

The Northwest Explorer successfully departed Dutch Harbor on Saturday, April 2, and set sail into the North Pacific Ocean to head towards its first station for the Pan-Pacific Winter High Seas Expedition. The team encountered a heavy snowstorm in the Aleutians but scientists continue to prepare to start the sampling process. Photos courtesy International Year of the Salmon

A fifth vessel has joined the fleet for the 2022 Pan-Pacific Winter High Seas Expedition, the latest major research effort of the International Year of the Salmon, to learn more about the lives of salmon during the marine phase of their life history during winter in the North Pacific Ocean.

The announcement on Monday, April 4, from the International Year of the Salmon and North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, said American fishing vessel, the F/V Northwest Explorer left Dutch Harbor on Saturday, April 2, to sample up to 30 stations from the Western Gulf of Alaska to the central North Pacific Ocean.  The Northwest Explorer was preceded by Canadian research vessel the CCGS Sir John Franklin Canadian fishing vessel the Raw Spirit, American research vessel the NOAA Bell M. Shimada and Russian research vessel the TINRO.

The Northwest Explorer successfully departed Dutch Harbor on Saturday, April 2, and set sail into the North Pacific Ocean to head towards its first station for the Pan-Pacific Winter High Seas Expedition. The team encountered a heavy snowstorm in the Aleutians but scientists continue to prepare to start the sampling process. Photos courtesy International Year of the Salmon

The F/V Northwest Explorer, led by chief scientist Dr. Jim Murphy from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, will sample stations in the United State Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that were not covered by the R/V TINRO. Scientists from Canada and the United States will spend three weeks at sea sampling physical habitat, zooplankton, and salmon and associated species across a grid of stations.

“The Winter High Seas Expedition is a truly unique opportunity to explore conditions in the open waters of the North Pacific and the physical and biological mechanisms that drive abundance and distribution for Pacific salmon throughout their range,” said Mathew Baker, science director of the North Pacific Research Board.

The Northwest Explorer successfully departed Dutch Harbor on Saturday, April 2, and set sail into the North Pacific Ocean to head towards its first station for the Pan-Pacific Winter High Seas Expedition. The team encountered a heavy snowstorm in the Aleutians but scientists continue to prepare to start the sampling process. Photos courtesy International Year of the Salmon

“This data is critical to understanding pelagic ocean habitat in winter and an important part of the life cycle for these fish. This effort has been driven by an inspired and talented group of individuals from across a wide range of institutions and nations throughout the Pacific Rim. The launch of this vessel represents the resilience of this group and the dedication of those engaged in this effort to adapt and meet challenges. It is critical to maintain international collaboration in marine science in the North Pacific and this effort is an enduring example of a collective commitment to that philosophy.”

IYS officials said data from all five vessels will be combined to better understand how an increasingly extreme climate and associated physical and environmental variability influence the abundance distribution, growth and survival of Pacific salmon during this critical life history phase,

Pan-Pacific Winter High Seas Expedition zone map.

The IYS is a five-year initiative, from 2018 through 2022, to establish conditions for the resilience of salmon and people in a changing world. It is a hemispheric partnership led by the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission in the North Pacific, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization in the North Atlantic, as well as by NGOs, the private sector, governments, and academic organizations. Updates are posted on the 2022 expedition website yearofthesalmon.org/2022expedition.

Climate change is also considered a major factor in the demise of once abundant salmon runs in places like Alaska’s Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, and western Canada’s Fraser River.

While much information has been documents on environmental pressures faced by salmon in their home rivers, less is known about changing conditions on the high seas, where fisheries biologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say many salmon have died in marine heat waves driven by climate change.

Researchers participating in the 2022 IYS winter expedition are hoping to learn more about what is causing the high mortality rate in the ocean, which keeps salmon from returning to their natal streams.

Salmon of all species face various predators at each stage of their lives, as do their food sources, including zooplankton, krill and other fish.

Sockeye salmon returning by the millions every year seem to be the exception. Returns to the world’s largest run of wild sockeyes have been rising to record levels in recent years and state biologists expect their return this year to exceed 70 million fish. The different is that unlike many other salmon the Bristol Bay stocks life in inland waters for a while before heading for the ocean. Biologists say warming waters in these lakes may be producing an abundant of food for the young salmon that makes them better prepared for the time they will spend in the ocean before returning to their natal streams.